Clear announces broadband wireless plans

Two years after it bought LMDS radio spectrum at auction, Clear Communications has announced plans to make it the basis of a national wireless network.

Two years after it bought LMDS Local (Multipoint Distribution Services) radio spectrum at auction, Clear Communications has announced plans to make it the basis of a national wireless network.

The company will use both the lot of 28GHz spectrum it bought for $800,000 in February 1998 and a another block in the 26GHz range that is has purchased from Denver-based Formus International - which bought the bulk of the spectrum on offer in 1998, but has yet to make any use of it.

Clear hopes to begin the $120 million first stage of the project, in Rotorua and the Auckland industrial suburb of Penrose, by the middle of the year. Its owner, British Telecom has already approved funding.

Clear outlined its vision for LMDS - which offers two-way wireless broadband services for voice and data - in 1998, and said then that it hoped to have a national network deployed by April 1999.

LMDS base stations can reach line-of-sight targets within a radius of 2km to 4km. The technology will Clear to leap beyond its fibre optic cable network to deliver to key locations, such as industrial estates, where it can either deliver direct to customers, who will have their own return-path dishes, or lay local cable.

Clear CEO Tim Cullinane says the company has been developing LMDS in conjunction with BT's development facilities in the UK for many months.

"LMDS provides cost-effective access to a huge group of business customers that until now we haven't been able to reach economically," he says. "It is a flexible technology that lets us deliver a wide range of services to the customer. It can also be rapidly installed with minimal disruption at the customer's site."

But Cullinane is emphasising that Clear's new wireless last mile does not, in the company's view solve competition problems in the New Zealand market.

"LMDS currently provides an economic solution for business customers, not residential users. It certainly doesn't fix the underlying roadblocks to competition in the New Zealand market, which can be resolved only by local loop unbundling and genuine number portability.

"Those issues are being picked up by the current ministerial inquiry into telecommunications and it is the government's commitment to competition that gives us the confidence to invest in network expansions of this type."

Clear says an equipment vendor will be selected in April.

Meanwhile, Formus, whose land-grab at the 1998 spectrum auction helped prompt stricter rules for this year's sell-off, says it would like to provide broadband services to the New Zealand market "at some point".

"We are very committed to the LMDS technology and have a great affinity for New Zealand and this part of the world," says Formus president Vern Kenley. "However, we have been focussing our license acquisition and deployment efforts in Europe where we have licenses in five countries and nearly every other European country will issue LMDS licenses in the next nine to 12 months."

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