Trend: New mini mobile network operators to emerge

Interesting news from the U.K.: A new breed of mini mobile network operators will start operation later this year. Carriers are watching this development with interest, if not anxiety, and those investing in WiFi gear are also a bit apprehensive. U.K. regulator Ofcom is offering between seven and 12 low-power licenses which would be suitable for wireless communications in premises such as an office. Ofcom says the licenses will be technology and application neutral, but observers expect that they will be mostly used to offer GSM services so that once employees enter their offices, the network picks up their mobile phone and it becomes an office extension. The calls made over the office GSM are routed through a landline at landline prices. When an employee leaves his or her building, their wireless carrier again connects to the phone.

The contemplated system will pose a challenge to WiFi because GSM is already optimized for voice. The quality of calls will thus be better, and there will be no need to change to existing GSM phones. The technology for the new system is already here. Companies such as ip.access, a subsidiary of TTP Communications, offers nanoGSM picocell units which connect with a company's private branch exchange (PBX).

We note the following: First, this is going to be a boon to new companies. There are many problems in scaling down the traditional base station to a low-powered unit, and new companies may be better positioned to do so. ip.access, for example, has developed handset technology to become a base station. It does not even need a separate power supply as it uses power over Ethernet. Second, it remains to be seen whether a typical customer would be eager to risk being cut off from what may be vital calls to their usual mobile numbers as they enter their work GSM cell and leave their wireless carrier. That having been said, the trend is clear: Low-powered wireless base stations offering access to wired networks is the way to go. Just one example: What with VoIP, UMA or VoWiFi posing a growing challenge to wireless carriers revenues, Bath, U.K.-based start-up Picochip has just released a reference design for an ultra-low cost 3G/HSDPA base station for use in a home or small office.

For more on the UK licenses and what they mean:
- read the Computer Business Review report

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