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Next mobile bandwidth wave gains momentum

05 мая 2010

Bandwidth-hungry smartphones led by Apple’s iPhone are unleashing a data tsunami on mobile networks that could nurture new business models in the telecoms industry.

In the US, two companies – Clearwire and Harbinger Capital – hope the data explosion will give them the chance to make profits through deals with established mobile operators and new entrants to the industry. Clearwire, the telecoms company whose strategic investors include Sprint, Comcast and Google, is building a high-speed mobile data network that will cover 120m people by the end of 2010.

While Clearwire is selling services to consumers that give them wireless internet access on their laptops, the company is heavily focused on reaching wholesale deals with its strategic partners and other companies.

The wholesale customers – which could include mobile operators that cannot afford to build their own infrastructure – rent capacity on Clearwire’s network. “We do see wholesale as a very big part of our future,” said Bill Morrow, Clearwire’s chief executive, in March.

Harbinger Capital, the New York-based hedge fund that is planning a fast mobile data network, is pursuing a similar wholesale business model to Clearwire, although there are big differences in the two companies’ technology choices.

Deutsche Telekom’s troubled T-Mobile USA subsidiary is one company that may be attracted to the wholesale solutions offered by Clearwire and Harbinger. Rene Obermann, Deutsche Telekom’s chief executive, has to decide whether T-Mobile USA should make a large investment in infrastructure based on fourth generation wireless technology, plus the radio spectrum to support it.

One way of avoiding the investment would be to strike a wholesale deal with Clearwire or Harbinger.

Robert Dotson, head of T-Mobile USA, said in March that T-Mobile USA had held talks with Clearwire, which already has several wholesale customers on its network, including Sprint. T-Mobile USA has also held talks with Harbinger, and the hedge fund’s planned network may be more attractive to Deutsche Telekom’s US subsidiary than Clearwire’s infrastructure.

This is because Harbinger’s network will be based on LTE, a 4G wireless technology. LTE is a successor technology to HSPA, which T-Mobile USA has used for its 3G network. Clearwire’s network is focused on a different 4G technology called WiMAX.

Harbinger’s decision to build a high-speed mobile data network should not surprise those familiar with its extensive interests in the telecoms industry, which include a 28 per cent stake in Inmarsat, the UK company that provides satellite phone services.

In March, regulators approved Harbinger’s takeover of SkyTerra, a US company that supplies satellite radio and data services to public sector agencies including the police.

Harbinger outlined in a letter to the regulators how, by using SkyTerra’s assets, it was planning a hybrid 4G network that involves satellite and mobile infrastructure. Mobile phones using Harbinger’s network would likely connect to terrestrial base stations in towns and cities, but in rural areas the devices would rely on satellite links.

The big advantage of the hybrid network is that, by involving satellite connections, it could surpass existing mobile operators’ infrastructure and cover all of the US population.

The US Federal Communications Commission said: “Harbinger’s broadband network will provide voice and data mobile wireless services nationwide, including to rural areas that lack services from existing terrestrial wireless providers.”

Tim Farrar, a technology consultant, estimated Harbinger’s network could cost more than $4bn, and some analysts have expressed doubts about whether the plans are realistic.

But in a further signal that it is serious about the initiative, Harbinger last month hired Sanjiv Ahuja, former chief executive of France Telecom’s Orange mobile phone unit, to lead the network roll-out.

Источник: Financial Times

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