Robert Stubblebine, CEO of InfiNet Wireless
Enforta BV and Moscow-based InfiNet Wireless, have concluded a deal that will create the largest WiMAX network in the Russian Federation, one that is expected to span 28 major cities within the next two years.
Initial deployment for the network has already proven successful in Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia, with a population of just over 2 million. About two thirds of the city is now covered, approximately 15 square miles. And by early next year, Enforta plans to extend wireless service to 10 additional cities.
This move will bring affordable high speed Internet access to many small and medium size businesses as well as home offices and residences in Russia that couldn't get it before. While DSL is very prevalent in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the two largest cities in Russia, DSL in many other cities is very limited or non-existent.
Internet penetration in Russia is still below 20 percent of the total population, and broadband access is below 2 percent. It is Moscow and St. Petersburg that make up much of that two percent. "This new network will mean that tens of thousands of Russians in medium-to-large sized cities across the country will finally be able to easily and affordably obtain broadband access," said Lee Sparkman, president of Enforta.
Enforta, now headquartered in Amsterdam, Netherlands, was founded in 2003 by a group of Russian and international telecommunication industry executives to provide broadband wireless and other state-of-the-art telecommunication technologies to Russia's regional capitals. Today, the company is 50% owned by the Japanese trading company Sumitomo Corp. and it already has significant operator holdings throughout Russia, providing SOHO (Small Office Home Office) and medium sized business with telecommunication services such as high speed Internet, local and national telephony, email and website hosting.
The development of a wireless network in cities poorly served by high speed wired access -- in part because of the investment needed to upgrade aging wired infrastructure -- is as much as anything a strategic business decision on the part of Enforta.
In partnering with InfiNet Wireless, which will provide all the wireless equipment for the network, Enforta is turning to what it believes is world class Russian technology. "InfiNet Wireless was a natural choice for the project due to their strong local presence, technical support and superb Russian R&D center," Sparkman said.
According to Robert Stubblebine, CEO of InfiNet Wireless, his company landed the deal with Enforta by beating out Alvarion Ltd. for the contract. "Based on real-life field trial deployments, Enforta confirmed that we had superior throwput and ranges as well as greater non-line of sight capabilities, although we don't even boast of having non-line of sight using OFDM technology," explained Stubblebine. "We have near line of sight. But the degree of non-line of sight we have to offer was superior to what Alvarion was offering."
InfiNet is an interesting company. Intel is a strategic investor in the firm with an equity share. And after 13 years of intense engineering work by their own R & D labs, the company has established a leading position in fixed wireless installations in Russia and Eastern Europe. Its equipment has been used in more than 300 carrier-class wireless networks throughout the world, including China and the Middle East.
The company's technology actually emerged from the Soviet Union's cold-war military industrial complex, where scientists, engineers and technologists worked in closed, secret cities to develop everything from nuclear weapons, conventional weapons and other defense technologies such as radio and computers.
"We found some pretty amazing voice and data radio transmission programmers in the closed military industrial city of Ekaterinburg where our R & D and production is currently located," Stubblebine
said. "It is really a world class R & D operation and we are leveraging the Russian radio transmission expertise that was an integral part of the military industrial complex of the former Soviet Union. Just as Russia has had some pretty amazing mathematicians and scientists over the years, and still has them, there is great radio transmission and now voice and data and voice over IP expertise that we are leveraging."
That expertise has resulted in what the company describes as scaleable, robust, and cost-effective fixed broadband wireless access solutions for carrier-class networks around the world.
In fact, in the early 1990's, InfiNet Wireless was one of the first companies in the world to pioneer broadband wireless access technologies to create Metropolitan Area Networks. These earlier wireless data networks provided bi-directional information data exchanges between the subscribers and the ISP.
That work quickly established a clear leadership position in fixed wireless installations in Russia and InfiNet today maintains a dominant market share of over 65% of all BWA (Broadband Wireless Access) networks in the country. "Our equipment has been used very successfully in over 200 different networks in Russia in the CIS markets alone -- mostly our Series 5000 equipment," said Stubblebine. "That is close to 8 or 9 thousand units currently working in the field in Russia, so the track record for that equipment specifically in the Russian market is well proven."
"Our wireless routing equipment is designed for carrier-class networks for high-speed Internet access, enterprise campus networks, VPN, voice, primary links for the last mile and backhauling traffic between cell towers and multiple access points," he said. "It is especially applicable to regions with complex wired infrastructures where infrastructure upgrades require costly or time-consuming activities."
The 28-city Enforta network will start with InfiNet's Series 5000 equipment, a family of base stations, relay systems, and subscriber units operating in 2.3-2.4 and 4.9-6.1 GHz frequency bands for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint deployments, which Stubblebine describes as pre-WiMAX. "However, we have agreed with the Enforta management team that we move over to WiMAX 802.16 2004 once that equipment becomes available sometime next year," he said. "Enforta feels we have provided them with a viable migration path which will allow them to upgrade to WiMAX. That way, as economies of scale start reducing the cost of equipment, the company and their subscribers can reap the benefits."
InfiNet Wireless is a member of the WiMAX Forum and is committed to bringing WiMAX-compliant products to market based on the emerging 802.16 standard.
Stubblebine, who lives in Moscow with his family, is also a co-founder of Yandex, the Russian version of Google. "It is pretty spectacular search engine technology which uniquely uses search engine capabilities which understands the morphology of the Russian language," he explained. "In Russian, words change depending on the context you use them in."
Yandex is now starting to plan for an IPO next year.