IF YOU ARE LIKE ME AND youve been in the telecom industry a long time, you might remember NextWave Telecom, one of the winners of the C-Block PCS auctions back in 1997. I followed them pretty closely for a number of years because they had a very interesting model they wanted to be a wireless carriers carrier.
I thought this was a great idea. It just made so much sense because there were only so many licenses to go around. And competitive providers really needed to have a wireless component to their portfolios even back then. Of course, today its imperative.
As you know, NextWave filed for Chapter 11 before it paid the FCC for its PCS licenses and before its wholesale service was off the ground. The FCC revoked the licenses and sold them to other carriers. NextWave sued the FCC and the courts sided with the beleaguered operator. Eventually, it ended up selling the licenses to Verizon anyway.
After that, I lost track of the company, but they came across my radar once again with a press release about their win in the FCCs first auction of Advanced Wireless Service (AWS) spectrum. The auction lasted 161 rounds and concluded on Sept. 18 with 104 bidders winning 1,087 licenses. Along with NextWave, T-Mobile License LLC, Verizon Wireless, Cingular AWS LLC and MetroPCS were among the winning bidders.
While I havent yet spoken to NextWave executives, it looks like they have designs on replicating the wireless carriers carrier model this time with WiMAX. With these new AWS licenses, its nationwide footprint has grown to more than 242 million PoPs with a presence in major metros. And its broadband unit, NextWave Broadband, has a Network Solutions Group that is developing end-to-end mobile WiMAX network solutions for service provider partners interested in offering advance mobile broadband services. NSGs 802.16e WiMAX network will operate on NextWaves license spectrum and use NextWaves WiMAXplus chipsets and systems.
If NextWave finally can deliver on its promise to be a wireless carriers carrier, I think it has a good shot at enabling a lot of companies to compete for the quad play, providing a fantastic equalizer for the competitive marketplace.
NextWave is not alone in its pursuit, however. Nextlink Wireless Inc., the broadband wireless spinoff of XO Communications Inc. and among the largest holders of spectrum licenses in the 28GHz-to-31GHz range, is formalizing its reseller programs with two options, including one that is basically turnkey (see related story).
Sprint and Clearwire Corp., both license-holders in the 2.5GHz band, are other likely wholesalers. Both have set their sights on WiMAX as their 4G platform of choice. Both are likely to be sought out by other providers, including auction dropouts like the DBS companies.
Already, WISPs like Covads wireless subsidiary NextWeb are looking to other providers to help them extend their networks. This summer, NextWeb announced an agreement to resell FiberTowers licensed broadband wireless services in three markets.
By reselling broadband wireless, competitive providers actually have a chance to compete with incumbents by offering higher capacities and lower provisioning intervals than wireline services. In some cases, they also may be able to skip right over the triple play to deliver the quad play.
Whether it permits an access play or a mobility play, broadband wireless is going to be a critical enabler for competitive markets.