As U.S. carriers struggle to get third-generation wireless technology such as 1XRT and GPRS (general packet radio service) out the door, other parts of the world are already exploring less costly alternatives.
ArrayComm Inc. this week announced a US$14 million deal to partner with major telecommunications infrastructure providers in Australia to roll out 1Mbps data service using the company's iBurst technology. This follows a similar deal with the Korean telecom industry earlier this year.
ArrayComm is partnering with Vodafone Australia, which will provide the backbone network infrastructure, while OzEmail Pty. Ltd. will provide ISP services, Crown Castle Australia will provide the base stations, and Total Communications Infrastructure will be the telecommunications project manager.
In a report issued late last week, Gartner Inc. is already calling ArrayComm's iBurst a serious competitor to 3G services.
"Enterprises seeking wireless data solutions should consider the CKW [ArrayComm's Australian subsidiary] offering, which will meet their high-bandwidth requirements well before the large operators deploy 3G services," according to a Gartner First Look.
As new technologies nibble away at the market for broadband access to Internet services, ArrayComm is perhaps opening up a second front.
While both GPRS and 1XRT cellular 3G service have performance ratings in the 20Kbps to 50Kbps range, WLANs (wireless LANs) transmit at 11Mbps and 55Mbps. ArrayComm's iBurst will also interoperate with WLANs allowing devices to select the optimal bandwidth as they move from place to place.
However, WLANs use a shared pool of bandwidth, which means that each user gets only a part of the spectrum. The ArrayComm iBurst technology is not shared; by focusing the antenna's signal to each user rather than broadcasting the signal, ArrayComm offers users 1Mbps in a so-called fully loaded cell, according to Nitin Shah, chief strategy officer for ArrayComm.
Wi-Fi range is also far shorter, a few hundred yards vs. up to 6 miles for iBurst. Minimum distance is about three-quarters of a mile.
One of the benefits of accessing data at the rate of 1Mbps is that substantial amounts of data can be sent in its native form without having to redesign enterprise applications for wireless connectivity, according to Shah.
"Unlike traditional wireless, where you have to skinny applications down, with the iBurst bandwidth you can use a VPN [virtual private network] from the corporate network, go across the firewall to the public access network, and make access easier to the back end," Shah said.
Security is built into the physical layer and the iBurst is compatible with standard Internet security technology, according to Shah.
Despite its benefits to users, Shah does not believe 3G access will disappear.
"There is so much money behind them they will just happen," Shah said.
There is a need for users to have access to small amounts of data, and 3G is appropriate for such use, said Shah. But downloading large amounts of data over the current 3G systems will not be affordable.
"To download a 5MB MP3 music file, about 20 minutes of music, it would cost about $20 from Verizon or Sprint," Shah said.
Shah said it would be cheaper to buy the CD.
In Australia, the service -- covering a 50-mile radius in Sydney -- will cost about $35 per month. Service is expected to be fully available next year. There is also a small non-commercial trial running in San Jose, Calif., and Shah said ArrayComm is in talks with all of the major wireless providers in the U.S.