Woosh pins WiMax hopes on spectrum access

WiMax could be rolled out nationwide over the next few years, says CEO

Wireless network provider Woosh has announced plans to build a mobile WiMax network in Hamilton, and hopes to have the city covered by the end of 2007 or early 2008.

Woosh is working with Hamilton City Council on the project and CEO Kevin Riley says trial sites are being assessed at the moment, with engineering reports being drawn up. If the Hamilton deployment is succesful, Riley says WiMax will be rolled out nationwide over the next few years.

It will replace the provider’s current 3G UMTS-TDD wireless service with equipment provided by IPWireless. WiMax is a wireless transmission standard backed by large industry players such as Intel, which has committed to integrating the technology into its portable computing platform.

New Zealand provider Callplus was the first to roll out a commercial WiMax service in Whangarei on its Blue Reach platform, which provides customers with up to 10Mbit/s symmetric bandwidth at distances of up to two kilometres from the base station, and 6Mbit/s at six kilometres.

Callplus is said to have engineering support from Intel, but Riley says this not something that Woosh has received. Instead, the network will be funded by Woosh’s original backers, which include Stephen Tindall of the Warehouse, and Todd Capital.

However, access to radio frequency spectrum could be a stumbling block for Woosh. The company has management rights to the 2.3GHz licensed spectrum, which is ideally suited for mobile WiMax. It has also entered into commercial deals with Telecom and Sky Television, to gain access to further bands in this range.

The 2.3GHz spectrum was configured in 8MHz bands in New Zealand in 1990, for television broadcasting use. It was never used for this though, and the government through the Ministry of Economic Development earlier this year signalled its intention of returning the unused management rights and reconfiguring the spectrum to make it a better fit for WiMax.

According to Brian Miller, the radio frequency spectrum policy and planning manager at the MED, it is very much the government’s intention to go ahead with the reconfiguration of the 2.3GHz band. It would be split into three 30MHz bands with two being auctioned off and a third kept for community allocation. Having to return their spectrum rights could put a spanner in Woosh’s WiMax plans, Riley admits. The Hamilton rollout is entirely dependent on the decision.

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