Nextel Turning Off The Lights On Flarion Trials
By Mike Masnick, Fri Feb 04 01:45:00 GMT 2005

Before the merger with Sprint is even complete, Nextel has moved to shut down its wireless broadband trial with Flarion in North Carolina. Customers of the service are not happy.

It's been almost exactly one year since Nextel surprised many people in the wireless community by launching a widespread trial of a wireless broadband service using FLASH-OFDM technology from Flarion. Everyone knew that Nextel needed to find some way to get into the wireless broadband game, as its iDen network was increasingly obsolete, but the Flarion trial still caught a lot of people by surprise. For one thing, it apparently worked fairly well. It gave a wide area high speed wireless broadband that was both mobile and relatively inexpensive.

In the past few months, talks heated up as Flarion tried to put pressure on Nextel to name it as the preferred technology of choice for its next generation wireless broadband offerings. Nextel, however, is known for being extremely methodical in choosing technologies, and refused to budge. It was known that they were also testing other technologies, including EV-DO, though, without as much fanfare. Nextel even admitted in the fall that the North Carolina Flarion trial had gone past the stage of being a technology trial, to a marketing trial, making many believe an official deal with Flarion was imminent.

Then came Sprint. As soon as Sprint and Nextel agreed to merge, people expected the talk of Nextel using Flarion to disappear quickly. Sprint was already hard at work deploying EV-DO, and it seemed likely that Nextel would leave Flarion behind and eventually move its own iDen customers to the combined EV-DO network once the two companies merged.

There was some talk that the combined Sprint and Nextel might consider offering both EV-DO and FLASH-OFDM. The idea being that it would continue to deploy EV-DO as an upgrade for handset connectivity in the 1.9 GHz band, while using the massive amount of 2.5 GHz spectrum the combined company had to offer FLASH-OFDM as a DSL competitor. However, it appears that speculation was just speculation, because before the merger has even closed (and as rumors are brewing that Verizon may step in and try to buy Sprint itself), Nextel has alerted participants in the North Carolina trial that the service will be shut off at the end of June.

Internet services come and go, of course. No one should expect them to last forever -- especially in the emerging wireless area. Customers of the old Ricochet wireless network can tell you all about that. However, it's still especially upsetting for customer who found the solution to be exactly what they needed. The blogger who posted the email he received above is obviously upset about losing his service, and many others at Broadband Reports echoed similar sentiments.

Of course, no one is probably more upset than Flarion. While the company has more trials running all around the globe, the Nextel one was its most high profile, and seemed (prior to the Sprint Nextel merger announcement) the closest one to going past just a trial stage. Flarion is still held back by the fact that the standardization process it was involved in stalled out, and many early supporters (and detractors) jumped ship to WiMAX. However, Flarion does have the selling point that its technology clearly works now, can be deployed at reasonable cost, has good coverage, good speeds and low latency. In fact, on the same day that Nextel alerted its trial customers of the end of the road, Flarion was out promoting its new upgraded FLASH-OFDM equipment that can provide much higher speeds.

Unfortunately for happy customers of Nextel's broadband efforts in North Carolina, though, it's looking like they jumped on a bandwagon a little too early. It may not make sense to them as to why they're going to have to wait a while until anything similar comes along, but for those service providers who are hoping to provide high speed wireless broadband as a DSL-style offering, the trials in North Carolina certainly show there's a market -- if only someone will deploy the technology.