iBurst fades to black

Dylan Bushell-Embling
10 Feb 2009

The sale by Personal Broadband Australia's (PBA) receivers of the company's iBurst spectrum is one more blow to the struggling iBurst technology.

PBA was the first in the world to implement iBurst, rolling out in most Australian capital cities starting in 2004.

Although now deployed in 14 markets worldwide, in Australia it was overtaken by Wimax and the expansion of fixed-line broadband.

PBA was acquired by Commander in 2005, but failed to achieve a significant subscriber base. Commander entered receivership last year and despite offers from two companies - BigAir and Pacific Wireless - for the iBurst business, the receivers elected to shut down the network.

Telecom analyst Paul Budde said the decision to dismantle the business may have been ego-related. 'It could simply be a clash of egos and unwillingness to find a compromise solution,' he said.

Commander's receivers sold off PBA's iBurst spectrum to incumbent operator Telstra.

Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) rules allow companies to trade spectrum without the regulator's knowledge.

The 1.9-Ghz spectrum is unsuitable for Telstra's Next G 3G network, prompting speculation that Telstra is warehousing the frequencies.

Telstra spokesman Martin Barr confirmed that the carrier had acquired the spectrum and said no final decision had been made on how it would be used. 'Telstra will look to deploy future mobile broadband and video technologies and applications over [it].'

Barr said Telstra had won the spectrum - 5 MHz on the 1.9-GHz band - in a competitive tender process. He declined to reveal the price Telstra paid.

But Budde believes that despite Telstra's assurances, the company may indeed intend have acquired the spectrum in a bid to stymie its competitors.

'Apart from niche market applications Telstra certainly doesn't have any inclination to offer a competing service to its HSDPA service, so it is highly likely that is yet another defensive strategy,' he said.

Acquiring spectrum merely to sit on it is indeed legal under current Australian regulations, he said, but added that 'under new proposed regulation this is set to change.'

Budde believes that PBA's failure to build up a successful iBurst business merely mirrors the situation in the rest of the world.

The iBurst technology, which was developed by the US-based ArrayComm, failed to gain traction as a technology standard, even though it has been adopted by both ANSI and the IEEE.

'As a non-standard it was difficult to built sufficient mass quick enough to gain business support for this technology,' he said.

'ADSL went to ADSL2+ and wireless broadband could not compete with this. [Then] HSPA arrived and conquered the market in Australia for mobile broadband, and is also doing this elsewhere. So they also missed out in the mobility market,' he said.

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