Enterprise VoIPplanet.com has been keeping tabs on Sarasota, Fla.-based xG Technology for about three years now. The idea of a totally new mobile phone technology using unlicensed spectrum and low-powered equipment is still pretty compelling.
And if the optimistic rollout timetable we reported in our August, 2006 story has long since been blown to smithereens, xG has recently passed a crucial milestone: Deputy COO Frank Peake and director of business development, Chris Whiteley described to VoIPplanet the results of a trial deployment of the company’s xMax gear conducted earlier this year in a rural location in Arkansas.
“We had engaged a rural Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC) called Townes Tele-Communications,” Whiteley said. After checking out the technology in xG’s lab, Townes expressed interest in doing a technical evaluation of the platform. “They chose the site. We flew our engineers down, they put up a base station on a 100-foot water tower in a very small town, and we began conducting field trials off of the one tower.”
“The range we were getting off that tower was about 2.5 miles,” Whiteley continued. “The system—which operates in the unlicensed 900 MHz ISM spectrum range—is capable of making calls at highway speeds with excellent range, performance, and signal coverage into this small town environment.”
According to Frank Peake, the ranges achieved in this and other test deployments, while they vary according to the environment—urban, suburban, or rural—are equal to or slightly better than the ranges of GSM and CDMA base stations.
“The important thing is that we are getting those ranges and high QoS under the Part 15 rule of the FCC, which means is 1 Watt average power—whereas GSM and CDMA may use 45 to 60 Watts of power, traditionally. That’s one of the features of our technology—that we are so power efficient,” Peake said “We do at 1 Watt what others do at 50 Watts.”
In getting to the point of actually demonstrating that mobile VoIP using unlicensed spectrum can actually be accomplished, xG needed to clear two key technical hurdles, according to Whiteley: bulletproof QoS and scalability. “While it’s okay to drop a packet in an e-mail or a Web browsing application, it’s not okay to drop the first word of a voice conversation and resend it at the end of the conversation,” he said.
Accordingly, company engineers designed an all-IP system “designed this all-IP system to have a QoS that guaranteed that all packets would arrive within 30milliseconds from the handset to the base station, and that they were going to arrive in order,” Whiteley said.
As to scalability, “When you look at Wi-Fi or WiMAX, or LTE,” Whiteley continues, “while they may be able to handle one or a dozen conversations, that’s certainly not the case when you start talking about hundreds of simultaneous calls. What [founder and CTO] Joe [Bobier] did was design a system that’s capable of carrying about twice as many simultaneous conversations per MHz than any of the other wireless systems that are out there on the market today.”
Where does this leave xG on its timetable to commercial availability? “The hardware is done,” Peake asserted. “The base stations are capable of handing whatever software additions we bring to it—whether that be more applications or more capacity.”
“The next step for us is the company is currently engaged in discussions with a number of carrier partners,” Whiteley said. “Those carriers are taking a look at the platforms, so we’re in discussions on business terms that would allow for eventual rollout of this network, nationwide.”
Potential customers include ISPs and CLECs looking for a way of reaching customers without depending on incumbent’s network, rural and off-shore incumbents looking to offer a bundled product and/or establish a network footprint in a new market, cable providers, and “very IP-focused companies like Google or Skype or eBay,” Whiteley said.
And while xG is no longer making predictions as to when its mobile VoIP service is likely to commercially available to “the guy on the street,” it could easily be up and running within two months of a partner choosing to roll out the technology—in the case of a small rural deployment—or six months in the case of a deployment of nationwide proportions.
“The scope of the partners we’re looking at is absolutely on a nationwide basis,” Whiteley said in conclusion.