VividWireless, set up as a separate company under the Seven umbrella, has been charged with building and operating a $50 million WiMax network in Perth, using the 2.3MHz spectrum held by Unwired.
Unwired will continue to operate its proprietary wireless broadband networks in Sydney and Melbourne, and to market Internet access services to the corporate sector, but though it will continue to own the WiMax spectrum and take a role in the physical building of the Perth network it will not be directly involved in any future national WiMax rollout, Mercer said yesterday. Future rollouts, like the one in Peth, will be under the Vivid brand, he said.
A major swag of the $50 million spend will end up in the bank accounts of Chinese equipment maker Huawei, which has been named as network equipment supplier.
Mercer last night told CDN work had already begun on the rollout, which will use existing masts and infrastructure. Vivid is advertising for engineering staff; while marketing and deployment teams are already at work.
A media statement claims users of the network which Seven refers to as “4G” rather than WiMax will experience downloads at an average speed of 4 megabits per second and peak speeds in excess of 20Mbps.
A “medium term roadmap” is said to involve the future simultaneous operation of WiMax and LTE (long-term evolution a next-generation mobile-phone wireless technology).
On the sidelining of Unwired, Mercer said: “Unwired’s existing offering is a good service but it has been superseded by 3G. We think it’s appropriate to take the next step to 4G under a new brand name.”
He said Perth had been chosen because Seven is the major player in the WA TV market; and the city had been neglected by 3G suppliers including Telstra and Optus, as well as poorly serviced for fixed-line Internet access.
VividWireless headquarters will be in Perth; Mercer currently splits his time 50:50 between Sydney and Perth.
He told CDN the network should go live in March next year. He declined to give a figure for pricing, but said it would undercut 3G by a considerable amount.
Unwired was originally a project of media star Steve Cosser and after raising $100 million got a backdoor listing on the ASX in 2003. It launched its Sydney service, using Navini technology, with David Spence at the helm in June 2004; Melbourne was added in 2007.
Unwired made heavy losses in the $30-40 million range for some years, relieved briefly in 2005 when Intel agreed to sink $37 million into development of a WiMax service. However that service stubbornly failed to materialise, the Rudd Government cancelled the billion-dollar Opel plan for a bush WiMax network and last year Intel asked for its money back.
That was eventually paid up a trifle unwillingly earlier this year by Kerry Stokes; Seven had acquired Unwired for $135 million in 2007. David Frith