Aperto Networks said today that Rod Nelson, AT&T Wireless executive vice president and CTO, has joined its board. Nelson cautioned against inferring from the appointment that AT&T Wireless has plans to use WiMax or 802.16-based equipment. "This is about my joining the board not as a representative of AT&T Wireless, but as an individual," Nelson said.
However, Nelson's experiences at AT&T Wireless are what spurred his interest in Aperto. "At AT&T Wireless, we have quite a bit of experience with fixed wireless and not such a pleasant experience," Nelson said. He was referring to AT&T Wireless' so-called Project Angel which used proprietary equipment to deliver fixed broadband services to customers. He said that the requirements the company learned about with Project Angel are appearing in WiMax. Because WiMax is based on a standard, Nelson expects prices on infrastructure and customer premise equipment to decline. Also, the WiMax solution makes it easy for end users to install their own CPE which can significantly cut costs for operators. High cost and the requirement for professional CPE installation were some of the factors blamed for Project Angel's troubles.
But WiMax networks that serve individual customers aren't what most interest Nelson. He's interested in the possibility of using WiMax as backhaul for 3G cell sites. "We've got a situation on the mobility side of the industry where cell density is gong up and the bandwidth we're carrying at each cell is going to be increasing," Nelson said. With 3G networks, operators deploy significantly more cell sites--as many as five to ten times as many--and each site must have wired backhaul. "Most cell site locations aren't located right on top of the fiber ring," Nelson noted.
Aperto is noticing interest in using WiMax for 3G backhaul. "The notion of backhaul, especially IP backhaul, becomes of interest because of the economics," said Reza Ahy, CEO and chairman of Aperto. "That's where we see a push in terms of WiMax infrastructure." WiMax promises to be less expensive as well as quicker to deploy than wireline options.
Both Ahy and Nelson envision that service providers, which could be incumbant telcos or competitors to the incumbents, will build networks using WiMax to serve the needs of cellular or hotspot operators that need backhaul.
Nelson didn't sound convinced that WiMax would be ultimately used to deliver broadband access to end users. "My view of the near term is that [3G and WiMax] are complementary technologies and we'll wait and see how this develops as far as a direct access technology could be concerned," he said.
Nelson also thinks that the major operators in the United States that are interested in WiMax for backhaul or other applications are focused on deploying the networks in licensed frequencies and not unlicensed bands. "Its greatest success will be achieved in licensed spectrum," Nelson said. "Whether is for fixed access to small to medium enterprises or backhaul for Wi-Fi or backhaul for 3G microcells, you need the quality and control over your quality that licensed spectrum provides."
The initial commercial WiMax products to hit the market will operate in the 3.5 GHz band, which is licensed spectrum in many regions outside of the United States. Equipment that operates in the 2.5 GHz band, which is licensed in the United States, will hit the market six to nine months after the initial 3.5 GHz products, Ahy said.
The press release announcing Nelson's appointment doesn't seem to be online yet but should appear here eventually.