During our trip to the West Coast, we stopped by to visit with ArrayComm. In San Jose, we met with Nitin Shah (Chief Strategy Officer), Stephanie Schweighofer-Jones (Vice President, Corporate Marketing), Alan Norman (Vice President, Business Development) and Katie Juran (Director of Corporate Communications). ArrayComm's core expertise is adaptive antennas; their IntelliCell® antenna technology is deployed by wireless telecommucations carriers around the world on more than 100,000 base stations. They have now developed a wireless high-speed access technology and are about to start deploying a full system.
i-BURST™ is a wireless broadband access system. Unlike Wi-Fi, which is limited to about 100 meters, i-BURST can operate over 5 km or so -- comparable to a mobile telephone. It provides 1 Mbps or more per user -- comparable to fixed-wire DSL or cable modem service. It is a "non-line-of-sight" technology, so it can work through walls and trees. Various names have been used to describe this kind of technology - we call it "Broadband Cellular Data" or BCD.
Not long after we arrived at their offices, ArrayComm said they would like to show us a demo -- whereupon they took us out to the parking lot. While driving in a large van around their part of San Jose, they used a portable PC to show us web browsing, streaming video, and IP video telephony - all running over i-BURST from one of their antennas on top of their building to an antenna in the van. It was a memorable demo!
ArrayComm claims that their "smart antenna" technology is far more efficient in the use of wireless spectrum compared with conventional 3G technologies. Nitin claimed a 400x improvement in spectral efficiency -- 400 times as many users in the same spectrum.
ArrayComm does not build equipment. Rather, it licenses its technologies to equipment manufacturers including Kyocera in Japan and LG Electronics in Korea. It forms partnerships with companies such as CommWorks, a leading provider of data communications equipment to telecommunications providers.
To test its i-BURST system in live operation, ArrayComm purchased spectrum in Australia and created a subsidiary, CKW Wireless. Unlike conventional 3G systems, which require "paired spectrum" (two distinct frequencies for transmit and receive), i-BURST operates in "unpaired spectrum" with a single frequency. ArrayComm says it was able to purchase 5 MHz of unpaired spectrum at a much lower cost than paired spectrum.
ArrayComm has now organized a consortium to help with the Australian roll-out. In addition to CKW Wireless, the consortium includes CommWorks, Vodafone Australia, OzEmail (a leading ISP) and Crown Castle (the leading operator of shared wireless infrastructure). For its initial deployment in Sydney, the consortium is building ten cell sites to cover 150 square kilometers (60 square miles). The operational trial has begun, and full commercial service is expected by July 2003.
We are carefully watching ArrayComm and other companies with innovative "broadband cellular data" technologies. These provide an alternative to cable and DSL for fixed broadband services, and appear far superior to 3G for mobile broadband.
The promise of "anywhere any time" broadband at a flat rate with speeds of 1 Mbps sure appeals to us, and we suspect will appeal to many people. Why would I look for a hot spot and pay extra to use service there when I can get broadband everywhere?