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Now Entering Big City Limits

WHOLESALE BROADBAND WIRELESS is striking out from its small-deployment roots and bringing its friend VoIP along for the ride.

For instance, Aspen Communications, a regional service provider, rolled out a WiMAX infrastructure in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, metroplex area to support other wireless broadband service providers beginning last month. Aspen has created an initial network of 12 buildings and towers, with a goal of having twice that many buildings online by the fourth quarter.

The wholesale arrangement offers a turnkey package to resellers, ISPs and others including backhaul, Internet access, network services, colocation and WiMAX tower sites.

Another sign that wholesale broadband wireless is passing small city limits for good is First Avenue Networks plan to branch out from cellular backhaul service to enter the carriers carrier metro Ethernet market. The broadband wireless company says it has IXC and CLEC partner announcements in the pipe, and expects to announce the structure of the wholesale program in the spring.

We are building a sales force of IXCs, MSOs, CLECs and LECs as resellers for wireless Ethernet service for businesses, says Art Folker, vice president of corporate development and product marketing at First Avenue Networks. In most markets, they cannot get to those customers without us, because 70 percent to 80 percent of buildings are unlit. Its essentially a captive audience.

Covad Communications Group Inc., which offers private-label broadband access to out-of-region ILECs, CLECs, ISPs and others, has completed its acquisition of NextWeb Inc., a pre- WiMAX-based provider that offers circuits of up to 100mbps for businesses in California and Nevada in the 5.8GHz unlicensed spectrum. The acquisition gives Covad and its customers an alternate broadband route to wireline T1 and DSL connections.

With the advent of broadband wireless QoS, WiMAXs high-profile, municipal wireless RFPs and actual service deployments, many have become more comfortable with broadband wireless proprietary and standards-based versions alike than ever before. And its advantages are making it an attractive wholesale proposition.

Going wireless has one immediate benefit that stands out from the rest: reduced deployment costs, which translate to cheaper access. Wireless means we dont have to pre-build the environment as with fiber, notes Folker. So you can manage the capex, plus offer the service at a much lower price point.

An echo comes from the Lone Star State: We will be able to deliver a 10mbps connection on a 300-foot tower in [Dallas suburb] McKinney for under $1,500 per month, which is unheard-of today, says Aspens sales and marketing director Rocky Ahmann.

Also, wireless offers a competitive advantage in terms of installation times and bandwidth allocation. The average order-to-install time is five-to-seven business days, but we can usually do it in three, says Lee Gopadze, Covads vice president of wireless. Also, it allows seamless expansion from T1 to greater throughput. Wireless also offers path diversity versus multiple T1s, which still reside in the same access network. Not to mention, it reduces or eliminates dependency on the incumbent music to the ears of most Tier 2s.

Nonetheless, the success of broadband wireless in general and wholesale programs in specific may be one application that is putting the pedal to the metal:VoIP. Says Keith Nissen, In-Stat analyst, The industry is focused on WiMAX from a data standpoint, but the reality of the industry today is that you need to have voice to be financially viable. VoIP lowers costs for both the service provider and the consumer.

The critical success factor for First Avenues wireless metro Ethernet will be VoIP, says Folker. In the enterprise markets, VoIP is the main driver. For CLECs, they just need a way to get to the customer. On the ILEC side, they feel they had better offer something that says VoIP or they will be left behind. They want to add capacity and functionalities to the VoIP service to make it more like PSTN, and thats where the wholesale service comes in.

For its part, Covad acquired IP Centrex provider GoBeam Inc. two years ago to provide hosted PBX services to customers, and we know theres a need for VoIP over broadband wireless, Gopadze says. Covad expects to offer a VoIP plus wireless access package in the wake of the acquisition, although theres no word as to timing.

Theres also a strong business case for VoIP over broadband wireless in underserved consumer markets coincidentally the main target for the first wave of fixed WiMAX. Wireless technology is the only economical way to connect more people and reduce the digital divide, says Tom Flak, vice president of product strategy at SOMA Networks Inc., which provides a last-mile wireless solution. This is where the limitations of existing fixed networks have been reached, or the infrastructure never existed at all, he adds. Rural neighborhoods, developing countries and other underserved markets represent the most profound potential for broadband wireless/WiMAX growth.

For instance, MVS Net in Mexico has deployed a carriers carrier model to support multiple resellers using a common NLOS broadband wireless infrastructure provided by NextNet Wireless.

MVS is bundling VoIP and data together into turnkey packages. So far the broadband wireless network has an average call volume of 1.6 million calls and 3.7 million VoIP minutes per month, and is growing at a rate of 21 percent month over month. Customers for the data plus VoIP service include ISPs like Avantel S.A. (a joint venture of MCI Inc.) and Alestra S.A. (a joint venture of AT&T Inc.).

Miguel Calderon, Avantels executive vice president of marketing, says his subscriber base for VoIP is growing beyond expectations, already ahead of our forecasted unit sales by 20 percent.

Others back on this side of the border are preparing for VoIP over broadband wireless to roll into town. Mark Peterson, vice president of marketing and sales at CommPartners LLC, says several of his reseller partners are looking to launch VoIP over wireless. Some have a dual-mode Wi-Fi service with an MVNO arm, or are going over mesh networks; some have an hybrid in-fill strategy, says Peterson. Theres definitely been an uptick with wholesale broadband wireless, and weve gotten more and more requests to certify and test out endpoints for interoperability.

Many of the new municipal deploy-ments have a wholesale component to them, and as VoIP over Wi-Fi gets nailed down from the standards perspective, we will see a lot more of that, says Motorola Inc.s Mike Dalton, Western channel sales manager for Motorola Canopy, which he says has in excess of 500 wireless ISPs deploying VoIP. The network operator will wholesale the service to WISPs and cablecos, he says, adding Motorola may strike an alliance where existing Canopy WISPs can be certified to resell EarthLink Inc. broadband and VoIP, but its a few months away from being fully baked.

All signs point to broadband and VoIP shaking off the little town blues and heading for Mainstream City. In the wireless space, everything is converging on IP, says Flak. Data applications like IPTV are incredibly sexy, but voice services will remain the single most important application for years to come. This is why so many carriers are betting on wireless VoIP.

Links
Alestra S.A. www.alestra.com.mx
Aspen Communications www.aspentx.com
Avantel S.A. www.avantel.com.mx
CommPartners LLC www.commpartners.us
Covad Communications Group Inc. www.covad.com
EarthLink Inc. www.earthlink.net
First Avenue Networks www.firstavenet.com
In-Stat www.instat.com
Motorola Inc. www.motorola.com
MVS Net www.mvs.com
NextNet Wireless Inc. www.nextnetwireless.com
SOMA Networks Inc. www.somanetworks.com

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