Millicom Argentina Announces WiMax Network

Following its launch last month of the BreezeMAX platform, Alvarion and Millicom Argentina announced last week week that Millicom will be launching what the company called “the first WiMax network in Latin America” during the months of September to December of this year.

Carlton O’Neal, Alvarion’s Vice President of Marketing, admits that it may be premature to be calling it WiMax. Carriers, he says, are eager to say they have WiMax networks, even when the equipment can’t yet be certified. “They’re going to say that because they’re trying to make the term WiMax like the term Kleenex for facial tissue,” he says.

Ultimately, O’Neal says he’d prefer that carriers work harder to clarify the difference between pre-WiMax and certified WiMax systems. “We’re trying to do the straight shooter model to lead the whole industry to interoperable solutions,” he says. “In the meantime, though, there will be some use by carriers of the term WiMax in what I would call a more generic sense.”

Millicom’s announcement was also made in conjunction with Intel , despite the fact that the current equipment doesn’t include an Intel chip. That, O’Neal says, is further indication of the fact that this announcement is only the beginning. “Intel will be involved in this, because networks roll out over multiple years,” he says. “The announcement is about the start of the rollout, not the end of it.”

Still, there is a danger of causing confusion in the industry when you call pre-certified equipment WiMax. O’Neal acknowledges that announcement like Millicom’s can add to that confusion, but he says carriers’ eagerness to deploy the equipment outweighs such concerns. “The reason that we’re selling it is because people have business cases for it,” he says.

O’Neal also insists that Alvarion has a leg up on its competition in the ongoing roadmap to WiMax. “We do claim the legitimate path to WiMax over everyone else, because we built the box from the ground up for it, we have a path to certification, and Intel’s our partner–so all the elements are there,” he says. “But it is still pre-certified, and pre-Intel chip.”

In order to encourage carriers to choose Alvarion, the company has promised to help upgrade any BreezeMAX base stations to interoperate with future WiMax systems. The cost for those upgrades will be determined individually for each customer.

“We won’t turn those base stations into certified WiMax base stations, but we’ll make it where they can benefit from the new CPEs,” O’Neal says.

The remaining roadmap to WiMax, O’Neal says, will include the release of Intel’s chip and the certification of WiMax by the industry consortium WiMax Forum within the next year or two, followed by a mass market release of WiMax equipment by a broader range of international vendors. Finally, in late ’06 or ’07, mobility will be added to the standard.

Millicom’s announcement, he says, is just one small part of that roadmap. “This is a proof point for our product in that it’s viable even before it’s certified — and it’s also a proof point for the whole industry,” O’Neal says. “It’s a hundred-step journey, and we’ve taken another step.”

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