Last week Cable & Wireless (C&W) announced that it has secured a five-year national roaming agreement with Orange for its in-building wireless solution based on the UK guard band frequencies it acquired in May 2006. Later, we were briefed by C&W with some more details about the product.
C&W's guard band licences have given it an important route into the enterprise mobility market, which it has long lacked. Moreover, its entrance will be as a fully fledged network operator, not as an MVNO dependent on the generosity of a host network.
Comment: As expected, C&W plans to offer an in-building wireless service to its IP VPN customers. It hopes that this will make its IP VPN offering more attractive, allowing it to build its customer base and to up-sell to existing customers.
The network infrastructure is being supplied by Ericsson. This will include a GSM core network and a range of base stations designed for in-building use, including both pico and micro base stations and distributed antenna systems where appropriate. The base stations will be connected to the core via C&W's IP network and the solution will only be available to customers who use this service.
C&W will issue its own SIM cards and expects to supply handsets. The implementation will support seamless, automatic handover between the Orange network and C&W's in-building network. When customers are on their own in-building network the handset will present C&W as the registered network. There is some uncertainty as to what identity will be presented when they are roaming on the Orange network.
A number of innovative features are intended to provide fixed-mobile integration, including single numbering and voicemail for fixed and mobile, and an integrated dial plan. Mobile centrex features will also be available, courtesy of the Ericsson core network.
There is still not much detail about the commercial proposition or launch date, about which C&W only says that it will be within 2008.
The roaming agreement represents an important piece of the puzzle for C&W's guard band solution. It would be possible to offer a commercial proposition without it, but it would be much clunkier for end-users.
So far we have been keen supporters of the guard band approach, which uses stable GSM technology and works with legacy equipment and handsets. C&W appears to be developing an innovative and attractive solution which could be of interest to enterprises seeking to reduce the cost of informal fixed-to-mobile substitution and to secure closer integration between their fixed and mobile estates.
Unlike other mobile operators, C&W is not dividing its attentions between corporate and consumer customers. The in-building solution allows it to build a network which covers its existing customers and not worry about keeping its network and channels full with low-value consumer users.
On the other hand, by making the guard band offering an adjunct to its IP VPN product, it risks restricting its addressable market below a sustainable level - after all, not every IP VPN customer will be willing or able to drop its existing mobile supplier, particularly if it is seeking a single supplier across multiple countries. C&W only has a guard band licence in the UK. Moreover, it is running at rather less than breakneck speed on this, and must consider the possibility that other, more complex FMC solutions will erode its window of opportunity before it is ready to launch.