For some reason, wireless vendors are not readily accepting the cable industry’s joint venture with Sprint Nextel as a fait accompli. Because of this, there’s still a bubbling market for new technologies that purportedly will help cable merge its fixed and mobile phone services—when cable develops fixed and mobile phone services, of course. Clariton Networks is attacking the problem from inside the home out to the cable headend with a system that lets cable operators build their own mini-mobile networks within structures and use their wireline infrastructure to deliver the signals. It’s not another cell outside-Wi-Fi inside offering; it’s a self-contained cellular network within the home, running on the same frequency and using the same phone as the wider area mobile network outside the home. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish. Fiber to coax to home "We thought, ‘Let’s take the native cellular signal … and send it directly through the fiber and then the coax all the way through the cable plant to the outlet at the home at the frequency that is the spectrum that the cable plant can handle,’" said Gil Shacham, vice president of marketing at the Israeli-based Clariton. "Then, coming to the outlet of the home, you shift back to original cellular frequency and retransmit it as a very low power at the home." This, he said, accomplishes two things: It creates better in-home coverage, and it gets the cable subscriber off the cellular network’s minutes, which is not something that the cellular provider—in this case Sprint Nextel—is all that excited about. "The big question is who owns the customer. If it is the cable company that wants to provide the subscriber with wireless service that’s a part of the quadruple play, then, to me, they own the customer," Shacham said. Sprint Nextel, of course, probably has a different view of who owns a customer in a joint venture. Cable’s customer "The cable operator is providing service for his customers whether it is externally on the infrastructure of the cellular operator or from the home via a combination of his infrastructure and the cellular operator’s infrastructure," Shacham added. Either way, that’s something that would have to be worked out between the two parties before Clariton’s system could be put into place. "There is cooperation between cable and cellular, and we take this for granted," said Shacham. "The wireless operator provides a base station (at the cable headend). We take the air frequency, for example 1.9 GHz, and downconvert it into frequencies that are around the cable band and then shift it from RF to fiber and send it through the fiber. Then, at the optical node, we translate it back to the RF frequency and send it over the cable network to the outlet at the home together with the other cable signals." Very low power retransmission And that’s just the start. At the home, the signal is upconverted from the lower cable frequencies into the wireless frequency and re-transmitted at very low power. "We’re talking here about a milliwatt," Shacham said. "When you are in the house, it is good enough to provide good coverage." While cooperation between mobile and cable is a business operations concern, what Clariton proposes inside is technologically questionable to some cable engineers. Industry veteran Nick Hamilton-Piercy, for instance, had concerns about the "excessive" amount of two-way bandwidth being consumed for the mobile signals on an increasingly crowded HFC pipe. And that was his minor concern. In-home conflict "More significant is the conflict between inside home capture of the in-home cellular base station vs. capture of the external cell site, especially if the home is fairly close to a cell tower or within the home, the inside wall attenuation between user and the in-home base station exceeds the attenuation through the window facing a cell tower," Hamilton-Piercy said. "If a user captures the external cell tower, then it defeats the whole merit of the concept … unloading the cellular system from in-home call traffic." The concerns have been considered and will be overcome by using the "macro/micro concept in the cellular standards," said Shacham. "In proper design, the situation of ‘the stronger signal takes over’ doesn’t exist. The cellular standards have mechanisms of priority between cells, which enable the control elements of the system to indicate to the handset which cell has priority. Proper spectrum planning allows different frequencies for indoor use and outdoor use and handoff between indoor and outdoor with no interference." As for the bandwidth, Clariton, said Shacham, uses "bandwidth expansion to utilize spectrum which is not used by the MSOs." More appealing than Wi-Fi phones The idea of a one-phone network is more appealing than using a converged mobile-Wi-Fi handset that roams between mobile and unlicensed fixed wireless frequencies, he said. Clariton’s concept uses the licensed spectrum that the cellular provider—and, by default—the cable operator owns, so technologically it’s feasible. "You use your standard cell phone which works outside now. Instead of going from the outdoor cell, we just go to an indoor cell which serves the home," he said. On the other hand, there’s that so-called joint venture between cable’s top tier players and Sprint Nextel where cooperation is the byword, playing nice is the de facto standard, and sharing, not fighting over minutes, is the goal. At least according to the parties’ public posture. It’s just that the vendors don’t seem to be buying it. More like an MVNO? "If it is a joint venture between a cable operator and a cellular operator, the person that actually owns the customer would be a cable operator that has an agreement, joint venture—MVNO usually—with a cellular operator and buys wholesale minutes and can do a lot of other services. The cable operator is providing service for his customers whether it is externally on the infrastructure of the cellular operator or from the home via a combination of his infrastructure and the cellular operator’s infrastructure," Shacham insisted. The goal is to make it attractive for the cable customer. "If you can lower the cost of the minutes, you can have less infrastructure out there to service the same amount of calls or you can, with the same infrastructure, have a much higher capacity. You actually gain from this maneuver," he concluded. Jim Barthold Tempe Launch Starts with an ‘Oops’ Tempe, AZ’s municipal wireless system week went off with a hitch this week. The network, which, among other things, promises to blanket the 40-square-mile city with a Wi-Fi signal capable of delivering portable data and voice services, was supposed to be Webcast by NeoReach Wireless, the company that’s running the network. Technical glitches, however, prevented anyone outside the immediate vicinity of the event from seeing or hearing the speeches by municipal officials and, according to the agenda, Sen. John McCain. Glitches aside—at least the participants hope so—the network, based on Strix Systemsmulti-radio wireless mesh technology, will come in two pieces: a private municipal operation for police, fire, utilities and other Tempe government services and a commercial offering that will include high-speed data and voice services to residential and business users throughout the city where it will compete with incumbent wireline providers Cox Communications and Qwest. "Of course they compete with the incumbents," said Nan Chen,vice president of marketing at Strix Systems, who was nowhere near the launch event, traveling on business in Europe. "A network like this is to compete with DSL service." Emulating cable franchise In a way, the service will also emulate a cable provider because MobilePro, a broadband telecommunications company that’s also NeoReach’s parent, signed a deal where it has a license to build this network, and MobilePro’s will be the only wireless license. "It’s like a franchise license, like a cable company, where they’ve been granted a license and have to shell out the money to do it," Chen said. Neither MobilePro nor NeoReach is shelling out any money to Tempe, said a NeoReach executive. "We’ve given them a certain number of accounts in exchange for use of their vertical assets such as streetlights, traffic lights and city-owned buildings," said Karrie Rockwell,NeoReach’s marketing director, who was on hand for the Tempe event. Unlike some other cities that launched municipal mobile services—most notably Philadelphia—there shouldn’t be any legislative angst, either, since no city money is involved, the participants said. "We’ve taken the owner-operator approach, so there’s no tax dollars that are spent," said Rockwell, who said the company is taking a "wholesale approach" to selling space on the network to service providers. "A lot of incumbents, if they wanted, could come in and be one of our retail partners and offer our service as an add-on to their current service offerings." That could include the previously mentioned Wi-Fi-mobile phone concept. "One of our retail providers or a couple of them will be offering that service," she promised. Jim Barthold

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