Where are we on the road to personal broadband? And what is the likely future for personal broadband provider Arraycomm, when the WiMAX camp has so much momentum behind it? Those are the questions we wanted answered when we set up an interview with Arraycomm's Director of Marketing Steven Glapa. We wrote about Arraycomm's iBurst technology a year and a half ago - see ArrayComm -- Another Approach to Ubiquitous Wireless (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0212_12.html).
Glapa's answer was surprising, given that we saw WiMAX and iBurst as competitors. He believes that whoever "wins" in the long term, Arraycomm stands to benefit either way.
Arraycomm's core business is its IntelliCell adaptive antenna processing technology. Using sophisticated signal processing to detect where a user is transmitting from, it directs the antenna array to focus the return signal there rather than broadcasting widely. This results in efficient transmission and low power consumption by the user's modem. Arraycomm says this technology is helping to serve 15 million mobile subscribers today in China, Ethiopia, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates. ArrayComm benefits through technology licensing.
Arraycomm says service providers working with early broadband wireless systems are finding they will need "smart antenna" technology to achieve their goals. Arraycomm thinks WiMAX will need it to optimize the range and capacity served by broadband wireless base stations, with fewer needed to serve an area. That translates to CapEx savings--and perhaps the difference between a viable business case or not. We don't know whether WiMAX vendors agree with this, but we have seen references to "smart antennas" so we suspect they do.
That's not to say that Arraycomm is writing off the sales potential of iBurst--far from it. If you visit their Web site you'll see that iBurst is front and center, while antennas are buried in a section called "products and services". The natural next questions are: "Who is Arraycomm's target market for iBurst?" and "Why would service providers buy it rather than other solutions?"
Glapa's answer is that some providers in developing countries and CLECs in the developed world believe in the vision of personal broadband--service which does for data communications what the mobile phone does for voice. Some of these providers believe "the clock is ticking very quickly" and can't wait for what's promised in the future. WiMAX is not available today, and "pre-WiMAX" products won't support mobility. So it comes down to the products available now and the economics of the business case using each. When that work is done, Arraycomm believes they come out ahead.
Personal Broadband Australia
To see iBurst technology in action, Glapa points to the experience thus far in Australia. Personal Broadband Australia (PBA) has built out infrastructure which covers 300-400 square km with 12 base stations. When Glapa was in Sydney, he said he got 1 Megabit/sec while being driven in a taxi.
The business structure is quite interesting. PBA's consortium partners include Arraycomm, Crown Castle Australia, ozEmail, UTStarcom, Vodaphone Australia and TCI, a specialist management group. PBA builds the network and acts as the wholesale distributor for wireless services; multiple retail distributor/service providers sell services and have the relationship with the end user.
Australia is turning out to be an interesting testbed for wireless broadband, since iBurst is not without broadband wireless competitors. Unwired, another company owning Australian spectrum, is using Navini's technology to construct a similar network in Sydney. However, Navini's current technology does not provide for mobility (use in a moving vehicle) but only provides portability within the service area (use at any served fixed point outside the home).
The availability of multiple types of broadband wireless should provide a living lab for seeing what segments of customers sign up for each of the services and investigating how customers decide what choice to make. There are lots of variables: what needs they have, how much they are willing to pay, coverage area and lots more. Your editors have no choice but to schedule a trip to Australia soon to investigate in person how this is turning out.