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Nortel to resell Alvarion WiMAX gear, refocuses on LTE

Partnership will jointly sell Alvarion base station with Nortel core; Nortel WiMAX investment and research will be applied to LTE

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Nortel is abandoning its WiMAX radio access platform, choosing instead to focus its 4G expertise on the burgeoning Long Term Evolution market. The vendor, however, will remain in the WiMAX market, reselling Alvarion’s radio equipment in a sales partnership that will pair Nortel’s IP core portfolio with Alvarion’s BreezeMAX base station.

Nortel WiMAX group general manager Scott Wickware said that shift in strategy came down to a business decision. Nortel examined its WiMAX portfolio and market position in relation to Alvarion’s product and momentum and decided in favor of a partnership, which would allow it to focus its considerable resources on future LTE work.

“One notable customer suggested we get together with Alvarion,” Wickware said. “They felt that Alvarion’s technology was market leading.” In turn, Nortel had the breadth, scale and large-carrier relationships that Alvarion could not attain due to its smaller size, Wickware said. Together the two vendors could take a “divide and conquer” approach to the market, he said. “I really think this is going to be a proxy for the way things are going to happen,” Wickware said. “Why should we pedal 100 mph to get where Alvarion already is.”

The overall WiMAX market is still small, but Alvarion is by far the leading vendor in the space. Alvarion can count 225 individual deployments to its credit, though many of those deployments have been for fixed WiMAX technology based on IEEE 802.11d technology and the vast majority of them have been with small operators. Due to its size Alvarion has been unable to compete for many of the larger network contracts available. By partnering with Nortel, Alvarion not only gets funding and access to the larger vendor’s technology, it gets an integration partner that can scale upwards to nationwide deployments, which may help it compete for future Tier I operator deals.

“Having a partner the size of Nortel brings an edge to our portfolio,” said Uzi Breier, president of mobile broadband for Alvarion. “It will definitely help us address markets we wouldn’t have been able to address before.”

When Nortel first launched its WiMAX line in 2006, it emphasized its expertise in orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) and multiple input-multiple output (MIMO) smart antenna technologies, claiming its technical edge in those areas would translate into a competitive market position. Two years later, though, Nortel is still among the pack of the WiMAX players, landing several contracts for trials and even commercial deployments, but still without a marquee win such as Motorola, Samsung and Nokia Siemens Networks’contract with Sprint.

In developing markets, where much of the initial WiMAX activity has occurred, the pool of WiMAX contract winners has been even larger. In addition to Alvarion, smaller vendors such as Aperto Networks, Soma Networks and Telsima have racked up major wins, and though also without a marquee win, Alcatel-Lucent has far outpaced its major-vendor brethren in deals landed.

Nortel’s deal with Alvarion is not with out precedent. In the fixed WiMAX market, most of the major vendors eschewed developing a fixed WiMAX kit, choosing instead to partner with one of specialty vendors or continue selling proprietary broadband wireless equipment. Alvarion, Aperto and Airspan all landed OEM deals to sell their equipment through the major vendors’ sales channels, while the latter focused their development work on Mobile WiMAX, which was where they believed the major opportunity lay.

But with growing movement behind LTE, many vendors appear to be shifting their development away from WiMAX in an attempt to cash in on the next wave of 4G. LTE fundamentally uses the same OFDM and MIMO techniques as WiMAX, meaning a majority to the R&D shoveled into WiMAX would transfer over to the new product line. Fujitsu was the first vendor to take that step, canceling its own WiMAX development plans in favor of using Airspan’s base station. As in Nortel's arrangement, Fujitsu is supplying the core network and integration while Airspan provides the radio gear. The deal doesn’t seem to have hurt Fujitsu’s standing in the market at all. Fujitsu, along with WiBro-pioneer Samsung, won a contract to build a nationwide WiMAX network for KDDI-led consortium UQ Communications.

Alvarion’s tie-up with Nortel could yield similar results. While Nortel may not be recognized as a WiMAX leader today, neither was Fujitsu before its agreement with Airspan. Several big contracts may come up for bid in the next year as Europe auctions off its 2.6 GHz spectrum. While the 3G operators bidding in those auctions are almost assured of deploying LTE over that spectrum, several wireline and non-traditional mobile players like BT may not only win licenses, but look to get ahead of the 3G competition with WiMAX.

Ultimately, LTE will be the bigger market for Nortel and the industry as a whole, Wickware acknowledged, but he stressed that Nortel writing off WiMAX, rather taking a more practical approach to the technology.

“We’re not doing this agreement because we think the WiMAX market is going to be big or small—we’re not trying to hedge are bets,” Wickware said. “We just don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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