Nokia Siemens Networks didn’t have to look very far—or do much development work—to create a base station platform for the 2.5/3.5 GHz WiMAX radios it will be deploying in 2008 as part of Sprint Nextel’s nationwide WiMAX rollout. Everything the vendor wanted to provide its customers--smaller size, improved power consumption, weatherproof hardware for outside deployment—as already available as part of the Flexi platform being used by more conventional GSM EDGE networks.

A Modular Approach

The only change was to put WiMAX radios in the modular slots.“It’s our WiMAX platform; our wideband CDMA HSPA platform and it will also be our LTE platform,” said Mark Slater, vice president of Nokia Siemens Networks. “It’s been designed specifically so that it can be that common platform across all of those and we can achieve as much scale across a single platform as we possibly can.”

A cynic might see this as a way for Nokia hedge its bets in the evolving 4G wireless space. After all, if one technology doesn’t succeed, the base station can be outfitted with another set of gear.

“It’s our WiMAX platform; our wideband CDMA HSPA platform and it will also be our LTE platform.” Mark Slater, vice president of Nokia Siemens Networks on the Flexi Base station

“Either they’re hedging their bets or leveraging their investments,” said Peter Jarich, principal analyst-wireless infrastructure at Current Analysis, who leaned toward the latter. “If you can take one platform and address multiple markets, it’s a smart way to take one set of R&D and earn as much money as you can.”

WiMAX Ready

It’s also a smart way for Nokia Siemens Networks to get quickly up to speed with its part of the extensive Sprint Nextel rollout. The carrier has set up something of a competition by awarding different cities to different vendors. Siemens Nokia Siemens Networks got deals for Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio, Texas; Denver; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City and Seattle where it will begin deploying its Access Service Network (ASN) beginning in 2008 and without a stop to look at more stable fixed/portable WiMAX equipment.

“Our version is mobile right from the start,” said Slater. “We chose, right from the beginning, to go straight o 802.16e.”

Working off an existing platform will also help Nokia Siemens Networks get to market a little more quickly because it will remove the R&D element.“The value is going to be leveraging stuff you’ve already done,” said Jarich. “You have a platform that can do data gateways for WCDMA and there’s no reason why it can’t do a data gateway for WiMAX.”

The final decision on whether WiMAX succeeds or fails, though, will be driven less by technology and speed to market than how consumers will use the services carriers elect to run, said Slater.

“It really is about what the end customer proposition is going to be and the price points and all those different things that comprise the ecosystem,” he said. “In some respects, it’s less of a race and more about the applications and the devices that you’re distributing and offering to end customers. The radio technology enables those applications and services, but it really is about that end user marketplace which is where the focus should be.”

Even so and even as a big device maker, Nokia Siemens Networks is not yet ready to discuss its entry or play in the device space. “Everybody needs to focus on getting that (network) technology comfortable in the right form factors,” Slater said. “I’m sure there will be lots of varying devices in different flavors and various technologies that will come to market.”

When you want to get to that market quickly, it helps to have a platform on which to build. For Nokia Siemens Networks he said, that’s the Flexi.“We’ve become pretty effective at integrating and gaining all the efficiencies out of all the architectures and the different platforms that we make,” Slater concluded. “There’s a little bit of magic in it, but it’s a product really of Nokia’s core competency which is making highly integrated products.”