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UK may get new mobile WiMax operator

Motorola claims it is working with a company that intends to offer UK enterprise users a mobile WiMax service, but details remain scarce
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

A new operator is gearing up to enter the UK enterprise market with a mobile WiMax offering, a Motorola executive has claimed.

Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday, Motorola's director of LTE (the long-term evolution of 3G) market development, Kieren Ashlee, said a "new mobile WiMax operator" would make an appearance if the technology wins spectrum in an upcoming Ofcom auction.

Ashlee confirmed that Motorola had been working with this new operator on the issue. "I cannot talk about any specifics, but it is going to [first target] urban areas, where the money is," he said, adding that it would likely focus on mobile, data-hungry, "enterprise-type customers".

Mobile WiMax is a long-range, high-bandwidth wireless technology that is already proving useful in developing countries like Pakistan, where wired infrastructure is scarce. However, it has yet to make much of an impact in areas such as Europe, where 3G-based technologies like HSDPA are fulfilling the same need. Despite this, mobile WiMax currently has the advantage over LTE in that it exists in usable devices today.

In the UK, mobile WiMax is not currently available because it still needs to have spectrum allocated to it — a process expected to occur when Ofcom auctions off tranches of frequencies sometime this year. Those promoting LTE will also want some of the same spectrum (which can be assigned to multiple technologies), although it can reuse existing GSM/3G allocations.

ZDNet.co.uk also spoke to Andy McKinnon, Motorola's principal for WiMax in the EMEA region. He said he was quite happy that the Ofcom auction — which had originally been scheduled for early this year — has been put back. "I'm encouraged if it's delayed," he said. "It means Ofcom are trying to do it right. They've had some lessons learned through the 3G auctions [at the start of the decade] and there is a lot of pressure on Ofcom to get this [new auction] right. To jump in with two feet would be seen as a little greedy for cash revenue."

McKinnon also said it was likely that mobile WiMax's admission into the IMT-2000 family of mobile standards — which also includes 3G and its spin-offs — had proved a contributing factor in the delay of the auction.

According to Ashlee, Motorola is to conduct European LTE trials at the end of 2008, with the first LTE networks being rolled out in 2009 for a mid-2010 launch. He said that current 3G networks would soon start to "creak" under increased mobile data usage, which would in turn put pressure on those behind LTE to get their product to market.

In the meantime, said Ashlee, "operators will have to be careful how much data they do deliver". He speculated that operators may soon start throttling the connections of heavy mobile data users, resulting in "end user frustration" with the service.

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