Airspan is to buy Nortel Network’s fixed wireless access business for $12.9 million. The news, announced at the same time as its third-quarter profits, will see Airspan takeover all Nortel’s customers and networks, including some intellectual property.
Nortel staff will be transferred into Airspan, although it is feared a number of staff will be made redundant in the UK as Airspan mostly concentrates on selling products for the licensed 3.5GHz frequency. The UK market for 3.5GHz is in its infancy and almost entirely run by one company.
The deal should go through by the end of the year, the company said, and it will pay cash. Where’s all that cash come from? Well, $11 million of it will come form Nortel itself in the form of prepaid customer deposits, so Airspan only needs to find $1.9 million.
A good deal considering the huge fixed wireless networks Nortel has - 15 operators in 14 countries, including one of the largest 3.5GHz networks in the world in Mexico City. However, Nortel wanted a quick sale. It had already decided to abandon the networks, a spokeswoman told us.
It is just a shame for the Nortel UK employees that the UK government decided upon such a ludicrous auction system for 3.5GHz licences across the country that the market is stagnant and almost entirely owned by one company - PCCW.
In auctions in June, PCCW under its nom-de-plume PoundRadio, managed to buy 13 of the 15 licences up for grabs for £6.3 million. It subsequently bought out another licence owner Red Spectrum for an unknown amount, gaining its licence across Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield in the process.
The only other company remaining is Public Hub, which has a licence for central southern England. Its CEO told us the company was “fiercely independent” and would soon launch its first commercial network, although he refused to comment on suggestions that PCCW had approached him in a view to completing the jigsaw. It seems incomprehensible that PCCW wouldn’t offer, so presumably he’s holding out for the right price.
However, PCCW remains not only extremely difficult to contact but elusive when it comes to announcing its plans for an entire frequency range across the whole of the UK. There has been talk of a “soft rollout” of broadband fixed wireless but then it is also thought that the company will use it for “backhaul” for 3G phone services - namely the transmission of huge amounts of data from one spot to another and then out onto a different network.
It is a shame that while the rest of the world appears to be rolling out broadband through a variety of companies using the 3.5GHz frequency, the UK government has decided to hand the whole lot to one company.
The great advantage of 3.5GHz is that it is a licensed spectrum so that companies can use far more power transmitting in that range and so the data can travel far further than in the unlicensed 2.4 and 5.8GHz bands used by nearly all wireless networks at present.
Airspan sees this as a great opportunity - and it is. Only not in the UK.