Price war looms over WiMax spectrum auction

BT is preparing to buy up wireless spectrum with a view to launching combined mobile WiMax and GSM converged services in 2008, according to industry insiders.

Speculation that the UK carrier will be one of the bidders at Ofcom's 2.5GHz to 2.69GHz spectrum sale early next year was sweeping last week's WiMax World event in Boston. The spectrum will go on to be available for service providers in early 2008, says Ofcom.

"It's very likely that this rumour is true," says wireless market analyst Mike Hijdra of 2Fast4Wireless. "BT is already steering the Fixed Mobile Convergence Alliance, so it plainly has a major interest in this kind of thing."

Hijdra pointed out that BT is not likely to be alone in its interest in converged services involving WiMax. "I can see carriers in other countries following suit, like Telefonica and France Telecom," he told IT Pro.

There would certainly be hardware available for such a step. Nokia has already confirmed that it will be able to supply handsets in volume by 2008.

A number of US companies, including start-up Clearwire, have expressed an interest in playing in the European broadband wireless space as well, so BT could face a bidding war in January's spectrum sale.

Although BT is officially refusing to comment on the possibility, analysts believe that such a move would be an inevitable extension to its current Fusion fixed and mobile offer for consumer and enterprise sectors, which uses Wi-Fi and GSM.

Although BT already has a big stake in Wi-Fi, WiMax could potentially broaden its wireless reach substantially.

The 2.5GHz to 2.69GHz spectrum range is perfect for WiMax, say wireless experts. BT is additionally known to be testing WiMax hardware from Birmingham-based Navini Networks.