Russian WiMax Operator Eyes GSM Handover, WiMax 2 Tests

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Russian WiMax operator Yota will soon begin offering its customers a WiMax terminal that can make VOIP calls -- and hand them over to a GSM network when the caller wanders out of the WiMax coverage area.

Last November, the company introduced a terminal from High Tech Computer (HTC) that can make calls over GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks and connect to WiMax data networks. However, that device cannot be used to make VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) calls.

Yota President and CEO Dennis Sverdlov showed a prototype of the new GSM phone with VOIP-over-WiMax at a news conference on the sidelines of the ITU Telecom World exhibition in Geneva on Tuesday.

Sverdlov refused to name the manufacturer of the prototype, but it was engraved with the words "not for sale" and a MAC address beginning with the code 00:1B:98, which identifies devices manufactured by Samsung Electronics. It was in 2006 that Samsung first announced plans to release a dual-mode GSM-WiMax phone.

Samsung supplies Yota's network infrastructure, and on Tuesday the companies also announced they have begun testing WiMax 2.0 network equipment, based on the IEEE's 802.16m standard. The companies expect it to operate up to four times faster than the current generation of WiMax products, which are based on the IEEE 802.16e standard.

Yota plans to put the first WiMax 2.0 units into service by the end of next year, a rapid rate of development for a company that only began offering service last year. Initially the service was free, with the company finally winning a license to operate commercially in June. It operates in three Russian cities, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ufa, and is deploying its network in four more cities. Three of those, like Ufa, have a population of around 1 million, while the fourth is Sochi, the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics, said Yegor Ivanov, Yota's director of business development.

The company hopes to offer service in 180 Russian cities with a population of over 100,000 by the end of 2012, he said. Yota will install around 20 base stations in each city, depending on the terrain, and aims to sign up around 5 percent of the population within its coverage area.

The company is also expanding abroad, having just won licenses to operate WiMax networks in Belarus, Nicaragua and Peru.

Yota expects to have a trial network in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua in operation by December. That will consist of just 10 base stations because the city is very flat, said Ivanov.

Although Nicaragua is poorer than Russia, Yota's existing subscription rate of US$28 a month for unlimited data with no speed cap will seem good value to Nicaraguans, he said. That's because today they pay around $60 a month for a 3G (third generation) mobile data subscription at 1M bps (bits per second) with a limit of 2GB of data.

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