Unwired brings channel into wireless broadband play

Wireless broadband provider, Unwired, has revealed a multi-channel strategy for its Sydney service, which is set to launch in July.

CEO David Spence said retail giant Harvey Norman would supply its services, along with ISPs and other channel partners. The company will also sell direct.

Spence, a former director of OzEmail, said convenience and ease of access would be key selling points. The Unwired broadband service would be a highly portable plug and play system.

It would just take a couple of minutes to set up in the home, he said.

The cost of the service would be comparable to DSL, Spence said.

Unwired, which was acquired by the Breathe Group late last year, is rolling out a $33 million network of 75 base stations across Sydney for the launch. The investment was fully funded from more thanr $100 million it raised last December.

"This is such a small cost to pay for such capacity and coverage- and compete with ADSL and cable," Spence told an Ericsson business breakfast in Sydney on Tuesday.

Trials in Balmain began in December and have since extended to suburbs around North Sydney. Within weeks about 160 square kilometres of Sydney will be covered, representing 95 per cent of the city's population and 1.2 million households. A voice service will follow by the end of the year.

In addition to retail partner Harvey Norman, Spence said Unwired was also negotiating with potential wholesale partners and ISPs, who would sell a rebranded service.

Wireless would hold strong appeal for retailers and wholesalers, providing an alternative to dominant player, Telstra, Spence said.

"The recent price reductions are about slowing down the alternative of our local loop," he said. "Telstra has moved aggressively [receiving a competition notice from the ACCC]. The ISPs are dependent on Telstra and restricted in terms of cost and coverage. Many ISPs are highly agitated. They see Unwired as a complement, serving the non-DSL and cable markets," he said.

Unwired bought part of the spectrum in 2000 to deliver high-speed internet and a voice network to Australia.

The company was in the early stages of planningto offer its service to other capitals and regional centres, Spence said.

He declined to say if and when services would be extended beyond Sydney. But this week, Unwired announced a $15 million deal to access 1400 mobile phone towers across the country.

Ericsson is providing network monitoring, technical and field support for the Unwired service, while Auspan supplies the transmission towers, Cisco the routers and switches, and US-based Navini the "plug and play" box for consumers.

The Australian broadband market was in transition from early adopter phase to maturity, Spence said.

Recent price reductions should fuel its growth further, he said.

Dial-up's share on the Internet access market had now dropped below 90 per cent as people realise they can do more and faster with broadband.

Broadband takeup would be driven by user's desire for an Internet service which could provide colour, digital photography and streaming video, Spence said.

"The dial-up world cannot cope [with this] - it will fade away," he said.

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