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Westminster businesses get WiMax broadband

Urban WiMax says its symmetric wireless will undercut fixed-line business broadband. But commercial rollout is still six months away
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

A UK company is ready to start offering businesses in central London a high-speed telecoms service over WiMax.

Urban WiMax claims it will be significantly cheaper than fixed-line symmetric broadband services. It will target firms that need a reliable broadband connection, but can't afford the expense of a dedicated fibre link.

"We forecast that we'll be up to 50 percent cheaper than the comparable fixed-lined service," Sasha Williamson, chief executive of Urban WiMax, told ZDNet UK on Monday, "For a 2Mbps SDSL connection from BT, you're looking at around £200 a month, but we'll be £99 to £120, depending on the offer at the time."

Urban WiMax will begin providing its WiMax service in April. However, it doesn't plan to start charging customers until the third quarter of 2006. According to the company, around 250 companies have volunteered to take part in this free trial. A Member of Parliament is also taking part, although Urban WiMax isn't prepared to reveal their identity.

The service is based on the 802.16d fixed WiMax standard, not the more advanced and still uncertified 802.16e mobile version. Companies that sign up for the commercial offering will get free installation, equipment and three months' free subscription, which Urban WiMax says is worth some £1,300.

The company's long-term plan is to offer WiMax services to companies in another nine cities in the future. It is starting slowly, though — its first base station will be installed in Westminster next week, and it believes it will need just three base stations to serve businesses in the Westminster area.

Urban WiMax will offer a range of services, with a top speed of 10Mbps. It also provides a guarantee of 99.99 percent uptime, and will compensate companies if it drops below this. However, customers will only be guaranteed a "committed data rate" of one-tenth of the top-line speed of the service they sign up for. In other words, a customer on Urban WiMax's 4Mbps service would only be guaranteed a connection rate of 400Kbps.

It's likely that connection speeds would be much higher than this base level outside of peak demand times, and Urban WiMax will also offer an option to temporarily boost connection speed when needed.

Urban WiMax was only created last year, but it says that its business is based on several years of research and development. The key to its offering appears to be software that can handle non-line of sight connectivity. The firm has mapped London from the air, and says it is in a position to deliver near-ubiquitous non-line-of-site WiMax coverage within its target areas.

"We guarantee to cover 95.8 percent of the Westminster region," said David Moore, Urban WiMax's chief technical officer.

WiMax has experienced a mixed press in recent months. A recent report from Infonetics claimed that the WiMax market will be worth $1.6bn (£910m) by 2009, but the OECD took a more pessimistic view, claiming that poor spectrum allocation could be its downfall.

Urban WiMax will operate in the 5.8GHz band, which is subject to a light licensing regime.

And although it's a small company, Urban WiMax hopes to offer a better customer service than fixed-line rivals such as Bulldog. It will use a CRM system that will escalate problems to a higher layer of management if they haven't been dealt with within two hours.

"We want to deliver excellent customer service and provide lasting value for our customers. That shouldn't be too hard for the telecoms industry to achieve today," said Williamson.

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