WiMAX Makes Concrete Progress In France

It may be refreshing for our readers to find that we’re not always negative on WiMAX. Today, the French regulator ARCEP announced that 45 companies have applied for licences to operate WiMAX networks in the 3.5GHz spectrum. This is notable progress for the technology that hasn’t always had a clear swath of spectrum available to it. At least in Europe, the 3.5GHz band is shaping up to be a harmonized home for WiMAX networks, but in the US, this spectrum is not available and WiMAX still doesn’t have a home. Many are expecting WiMAX from Sprint in its 2.5GHz properties, but Sprint may yet surprise us: I don’t think WiMAX is among their top two choices. Meanwhile, the French auction revealed a wide breadth of companies bidding for the spectrum, with about 8 firms bidding for essentially national licenses, and 18 of the 45 bidding for a license in just one of 22 French regions. Those bidding for just one region were often regional councils (ie: government-backed efforts not unlike muni-broadband). It’s refreshing to see munis consider something other than the over-worked WiFi for wireless WANs. The WiMAX networks being considered here are, however, positioned as DSL substitutes, and are essentially fixed solutions using non-mobile WiMAX. At 3.5GHz, carriers cannot simply use an existing cellular tower arrangement, but will more likely design an entirely new network topology around externally mounted CPE antennas and point-to-point signals. And while we at Techdirt often seem negative on WiMAX, the fixed connectivity competitor is the role we’ve always said WiMAX was likely to fill — while we’ve remained skeptical of the mobile version’s prospects.

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