Vodafone rolls out WiMAX in Malta

Vodafone Malta said Friday it has tapped wireless broadband vendor Airspan to build its first commercial WiMAX network.

The network is among Vodafone’s first WiMAX deployments worldwide, bundling together mobile and fixed offerings to provide broadband data and VoIP services to residential and business customers under its ‘Mobile Plus’ strategy.

There is no word on which particular flavour of WiMAX is being deployed although another Vodafone implementation of the technology is understood to be of the DSL replacement, nomadic variety.

No, Malta is not alone as a testbed for Vodafone’s WiMAX interests. Earlier this month it emerged that MTC-Vodafone is also rolling out a WiMAX network in Bahrain.

How different things are from 18 months ago. Back then, Vodafone’s then CTO Thomas Geitner told sister publication MCI that there was no need for WiMAX, because HSDPA would provide all the bandwidth anyone could need. There was some interest in it as another microwave backhaul solution but the company didn’t really appear to take it seriously.

But the first hints came in late 2006, when Vodafone representatives answered a British government consultation about the re-opening of the 2.5GHz UMTS Extension band in terms that suggested the Big V welcomed the idea of the UK selling large chunks of tech-neutral spectrum in this optimal region for WiMAX.

This didn’t get very much coverage in the general media but readers would have seen it. Hence the big surprise when Arun Sarin showed up at 3GSM this spring to complain that LTE was taking too long to finish its standardisation and he might go straight to WiMAX.

“Not a commercial reality,” the GSM Association mumbled at the time. But over the past few months, drip by drip, more and more roll outs have cropped up and the ecosystem has extended far beyond Intel and Motorola’s respective venture capital shops. Airspan Networks, for example, which is providing the kit for the Vodafone Malta deployment, is also building a brace of metro-scale WiMAX networks in Tokyo.

Perhaps Vodafone’s strategic redirection towards emerging markets, where DSL/co-ax competition is minimal and demand for bandwidth raging, has something to do with it?


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