NextWave's Next Wave?Thursday, March 20, 2008
The original NextWave company was founded prior to the bidding on the PCS spectrum that went to auction in 1996. It bought a lot of the spectrum but couldn’t pay for some of it and then filed for bankruptcy. The FCC took the spectrum back, NextWave sued the FCC and won the spectrum back and then sold it off. (This is the short version of a long story.)
It then set about re-inventing itself as the new NextWave, but with the same executives as before. It started buying companies including PacktVideo, a semiconductor company, IP Wireless and a few others for good measure, transforming itself from a company that was to build a nationwide PCS network and wholesale services to what it now says is a company that provides software, systems and silicon solutions that enable cutting-edge wireless broadband and mobile multimedia services.
NextWave’s product offerings now include multimedia software, mobile TV, semiconductors, wireless systems and hosted solutions. The wireless technologies it supports are UMTS-TD-CDMA (from its IP Wireless purchase), “carrier grade” Wi-Fi and WiMAX/LTE.
Its mobile TV offerings are called TDtv and MXtv. According to the NextWave Website, TDtv is a 3GPP multimedia broadcast and multicast service (MBMS) solution for UMTS operators and MXtv is the same thing for WiMAX operators. What prompted this blog entry today was an announcement on March 14 that NextWave Wireless has “tapped” Alcatel-Lucent (most interesting to me is that there is a NextWave press release but not a single word form Alcatel-Lucent regarding this annoucement) to develop “WiMAX solutions that the company plans to integrate with its recently announced MXtv technology,” or perhaps that should be the MXtv technology once it is invented.
NextWave wants to provide “complete end-to-end mobile multicast and broadcast solutions that leverage the existing spectrum and network assets of the operators to dramatically improve the economics of delivering a compelling multimedia offer for subscribers.” This sure is a mouthful!
In addition to selling mobile TV solutions, software and the rest to other network operators, don’t forget that NextWave has spectrum in the 1.7/2.1-GHz band (AWS), 2.3-GHz band and some 2.5 GHz spectrum. It claims that all of this spectrum covers 250 million POPs (sounds very much like its PCS coverage numbers), with more than half of the markets having 20 MHz of spectrum and at least 10 MHz in the others.
Allen Salmasi, the still-CEO of NextWave Wireless, said in the press release announcing the agreement with Alcatel-Lucent that “User demand for mobile broadcast services is rapidly expanding and we believe that the exciting new applications offered through this alliance will provide mobile operators a unique ability to deliver the key differentiating feature of 4G networks, rich media content such as live television, movies, and music on demand, real-time video streaming, and conferencing, radio, multi-player gaming and many other interactive streaming applications to mobile devices-anywhere, anytime.”
Sounds great! WiMAX is a 3G technology the last time I looked, with the 4G version still being cooked. Clearwire is limiting bandwidth to its customers to under 2.0 Mbps down and 256 Mbps up. Other systems I have reviewed in other parts of the world are also running data rates slower than DSL or cable, and most wireless network operators seem to be relying on MediaFLO or DVB-H to off-load mobile TV content from their networks. I have to wonder what this is all about.
Today’s WiMAX is no more efficient than either EV-DO REV A or UMTS/HSPA (and some believe it is less efficient because of the way it was designed). If this is true, then I guess I don’t understand how a WiMAX operator is going to handle multiple streams of mobile TV, fast access to the Internet, interactive games and other data-heavy applications, let alone VoIP, which requires Quality of Service to implement properly.
We know the theoretical capacity and data speeds that will be offered by LTE and UMB, both 4th-generation technologies, but I have seen very little about what the theoretical WiMAX 4G capacity and data speeds will be. Since they are all based on the same technology (OFDM), one would expect 4G WiMAX to be on a par with the others, and I don’t think we are going to be able to provide enough capacity for lots of TV channels.
Today, MediaFLO is delivering eight channels or so in 6 MHz of bandwidth( for each of two networks) with a potential to go to 50+ channels, but—and this is a big but—it is running only video, some audio and some streaming data over the system. The system is not being used for all-you-can-eat Internet browsing, other sources of streaming media, audio downloads, etc.
These are ambitious plans, but NextWave seems to be able to continue to raise money, purchase spectrum in other countries and enter into deals—including buying Japan’s J-Mobile, announcing that an IP-wireless network would be built and then less than six months later cancelling the deal and selling its stake in J-Mobile. When you look at NextWave’s cash position, it looks pretty good, and its year over year revenue growth of 143% to $59.1 million looks good, too. But then you run your eyes down to its Loss from Operations and see that in 2007 it was $288.4 million, which is an increase of $189.9 million from the prior year. You have to wonder if the revenue will go up sufficiently and the losses drop enough to keep the company going and, if so, for how long.
The best network operators in the world are concerned about bandwidth constraints, as demonstrated in the United States by the recently completed 700-MHz auction that raised almost $20 billion. This money would not have been spent if the spectrum wasn’t needed by those who bid for it. Google et al are pushing the Internet over wireless as hard as they can and they don’t believe wireless will have a problem keeping up. Now we will add multiple channels of streaming video on top of the ever-increasing traffic load from the Internet! Did you read the reports of the Internet slowdown on the Monday night Oprah launched her new self-help Webinar? And that was using the wired Internet.
I wish NextWave good luck, having watched the company morph into a few different types of companies since it was founded. It looks there is more to come before we see the final version of NextWave.
Andrew M. Seybold