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BT on the way to WiMAX

Incumbent telco BT issued an RFI (Request for Information) to potential WiMAX suppliers on Tuesday, threatening to shake up the UK telecoms industry dramatically.

The British regulator Ofcom is planning to re-open the UMTS Extension 2.5-2.69GHz band some time around the end of 2007 and BT is almost a dead cert to bid for some of the 215MHz of spectrum on offer.

Motorola Networks & Enterprise and WiMAX specialists Alvarion have confirmed that they are studying the RFI. Nokia Siemens Networks refused to confirm or deny any interest. It may be worth pointing out here that Motorola is a major partner in BT’s metro-WLAN and hotspot activities.

Meanwhile, Alvarion’s involvement implies that Cisco Systems is also interested – Cisco supplies the routers and other core networking gear for Alvarion WiMAX deployments.

BT’s move should not have come as much of a surprise to readers of telecoms.com, AWIW, or MCI. We reported back in May 2006 that BT’s 21 Century Network plans foresaw the consolidation of all BT operations onto two access networking technologies. The slides we saw showed those as DSL and wifi/802.16.

Furthermore, when Ofcom issued its consultation document on the UMTS Extension band in December 2006, we reported that one of the most enthusiastic responses to the consultation came from BT.

But should BT’s bid for spectrum fail, there is a plan B. BT execs say they could do an MVNO with one of the successful bidders. One wonders if that might be why former BT exec Ryan Jarvis’ infrastructure site outfit Macropolitan is looking at becoming a WiMAX network outsourcer.

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