Telefonica puts WiMAX on trial in Brazil

Telefonica, in cooperation with Motorola and Intel, has started a mobile WiMAX trial in Sao Paulo.

The pilot, which involves around 150 users, is using the 2.5GHz frequency band and is aiming to provide 2Mbps on the downlink and 600Kbps on the uplink.

The trial partners reportedly want to make the WiMAX service commercially available in the first half of 2009, although this will depend on spectrum availability.

The majority of 2.5GHz spectrum in Brazil is still held by regional MMDS (multichannel multipoint distribution service) players offering analogue and digital TV services. Anatel, the country’s regulator, has still to make its intentions clear regarding the use of 2.5GHz spectrum for services other than TV.

Telefonica does have access to 2.5GHz spectrum, however,  through TVA – a multi-service company in Brazil – whose MMDS operations are owned by the Spanish giant. But that may not give Telefonica the WiMAX entry point it is looking for in Brazil, at least in the short term.

“The regulatory environment in Brazil remains unfavourable for the deployment of mobile WiMAX networks, especially in the 2.5GHz band,” writes Cintia Garza, a market analyst with Maravedis, in a recent research note. “Anatel is still reluctant to allow MMDS operators to deploy mobile WiMAX networks, mainly because of their perceived threat to 3G operators that spent billions to obtain spectrum licenses at the beginning of the year.”

Maravedis reports that Brazil’s MMDS operators are keener to offer fixed WiMAX services rather than full mobility, which would avoid a head-on competitive collision with 3G operators, although Anatel has yet to give its blessing to such a move

Francisco Suarez, Motorola’s WiMAX business development manager in Latin America, is nonetheless confident that the regulatory picture in Brazil will become more favourable for mobile WiMAX in the coming months. “I think the mobile operators will ease off the pressure [on Anatel] next year,” he says. “The main reason for that is they have already launched HSDPA services using USB dongles and cards. Once they feel they’ve got a grab on the market they’ll become less resistant to mobile WiMAX.”

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