Unwired commercial launch heralds VAR signings

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ISP Unwired commercially launched its long-awaited wireless broadband service today, hinting at a rash of reseller signings to add to its wholesale and retail partnerships.

ISP Unwired commercially launched its long-awaited wireless broadband service today, hinting at a rash of reseller signings to add to its wholesale and retail partnerships.

David Spence, CEO at Sydney-based Unwired, said the company was adding to its stable of partners. Unwired was going to market via retailers, dealers, VARs and wholesalers.

"This is how we'll cover all the segments, especially with SMBs," he said. "We are preparing to sign a number of resellers over the next few weeks."

Unwired announced a high profile deal with mass-market retailer Harvey Norman this week. The ISP has also signed up the likes of People Telecom and Internode as wholesale partners, he said.

Unwired's $33 million network covered nearly 200kmĀ², using 68 base stations to provide portable broadband access to a potential 3.5 million people in 1.2 million Sydney households and 240,000 small businesses, Spence said.

Quality of service would be guaranteed. Although some variation was likely in terms of speed, Unwired was confident that the margin of difference would be smaller than that of many other providers.

Furthermore, it would go on expanding its network to cater for increasing user numbers - with over 70 towers expected to eventually cover Sydney, he said.

About 50,000 to 70,000 customers would mean break-even but from that point the ISP wanted to quickly start expanding across Australia. Retail take-up already looked promising, he said.

"We're having to emergency-ship a whole lot more modems [for Harvey Norman] this afternoon," Spence said.

Spence claimed Unwired had a "unique" combination of spectrum ownership and development partners. Finances were rock solid, he said.

Key to the network's strength was hardware from US-based Navini Networks, Spence said.

Roger Dorf, president and CEO at Navini Networks, said its smart antennae helped keep costs down and performance steady by enabling more economical signal transmission. Instead of sending energy in all directions, he said, a smart antenna trains on the user's location.

"It's like a flashlight. We're sending a light to the user, reducing equipment to between a half and a quarter of the number of cell sites to support the same number of users," Dorf said.

Navini hardware promised non-line of sight connectivity up to 56km from base. Metropolitan coverage could be done effectively up to 8km away, Dorf said.

Unwired's Spence said the ISP was taking WiMax and VoIP very seriously. Six weeks of testing had just been successfully concluded and VoIP was likely to be introduced into Unwired's service next year

Latency and jitter - two common worries with VoIP - had not reared their heads thus far, Spence said.

Robin Simpson, mobile and wireless analyst at Gartner, said Unwired's timing of the launch seemed excellent. Although some wireless companies had seemingly run out of funds before becoming profitable, Unwired seemed placed to take advantage of the expected upswing.

"I think the timing of this is incredibly good, probably more by good luck than by good design," Simpson said. "They've had that two years spending a lot of capital and that obviously helped. They weren't exactly a start-up."

Unwired had tried and tested a number of technologies before settling on this one, which looked likely to prove cost-effective and provide quality of service as well as portability and self-install, Simpson said.

Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications, IT and the Arts, said competition was accelerating in wireless telecommunications.

"This gives coverage across 90 percent of homes in the Sydney region," Coonan said. "I will watch the progress of this with great interest."

Unwired also partners with other vendors, including Cisco, Exel, Equinix and AirSpan. An announcement involving a deal with Apple was expected within the month, Spence said.

The company has started a massive marketing offensive, using champion surfer Layne Beachley and cricketer Brett Lee as 'Unwired ambassadors'. Unwired was placing ads in a range of media and launching a number of promotions, Spence said.



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