Clearwire ties up two WiMAX deals in Taiwan

Clearwire, the flagship mobile WiMAX operator in the US, has entered into a strategic alliance with two WIMAX licensees in Taiwan: Global Mobile, which holds a licence in the north of Taiwan; and Vastar Cable TV System, which holds a licence to cover the southern part of the island.

“We will be helping them to bring services to the market a lot faster,” says Ali Tabassi, SVP of global ecosystem & standards at US WiMAX operator Clearwire, speaking at the WiMAX Forum Congress Asia event being held in Singapore this week. “Taiwan has been a pioneer in developing WiMAX devices and capabilities, and the innovation there is good for us and the rest of the industry.”

Under the terms of the deal with Global Mobile, Clearwire will use its rollout experience in the US to help with network deployment – both use the 2.5GHz frequency band – as well as cooperate with the Taiwanese licensee to develop WiMAX applications and digital content.

According to Wayne Sun, Global Mobile CIO, commercial WiMAX services will be launched Q4 2009. It will be nearly a year later than originally planned, but Sun pointed out during the Congress Asia event that there have been significant problems to overcome, such as lack of CPE availability and the high price of CPE and base stations, which has made the business case difficult to justify, particularly in the economic downturn. “The biggest challenge for us, however, has been site acquisition,” adds Sun.

Sun’s views on the difficulties of site acquisition were echoed by Dr Teddy Huang, president of VMAX, which also holds a WIMAX 2.5GHz licence in the north of Taiwan. He pointed out that due to health concerns related to the position of some base stations, the Taiwanese regulators have forced some base stations to be relocated, which has increased costs and lengthened the time to market. “It can take between six and eight months to go through the whole process of site acquisition and meeting the various requirements, such as lawful intercept,” Dr Huang told WIMAX Vision.

Dr Huang expects VMAX to launch commercial service Q3 2009 and has a subscriber target of 500,000 within five years. But he adds that he would also be keen to enter into a strategic alliance with a large WiMAX service provider with 2.5GHz rollout experience, such as Clearwire in the US or UQ in Japan. VMAX already counts Intel as an investor and is using Samsung for part of its 802.16e base station rollout in northern Taiwan. The Korean vendor has experience of 2.5GHz WiMAX deployment with both Clearwire and UQ, but Dr Huang would still be keen for a partnership with a major 2.5GHz WiMAX operator to help navigate the rollout process.

But of all the six WiMAX licensees in Taiwan, it is Tatung Infocomm who managed to launch commercial service first, on 27th April, across Penghu island. Tatung has a licence for coverage in southern Taiwan. “We intend to cover about a third of our addressable market [13 million population] by the end of this year,” says Peter Yen, president of Tatung Infocomm. Yen told the Congress Asia delegates that the WiMAX service far exceeded the performance of 3.5G, achieving up to 10Mbps on the downlink and 3Mbps on the uplink. 3.5G typically offers 2Mbps on the downlink and 1Mbps on the uplink, says Yen.

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