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Wireless upstart looks down under for deals

ArrayComm, a small wireless technology company, is looking to Australia for a less expensive way to test and market its new high-speed Net service.

A small wireless technology company is looking abroad for a less expensive way to test and market its new high-speed Internet service.

San Jose, Calif.-based ArrayComm, headed by wireless pioneer Martin Cooper, has purchased a slice of wireless spectrum in Australia that it will use to offer its high-speed "i-Burst" Net service.

Although the company's service is a year from being operational, it's the first chance ArrayComm has to demonstrate its product on a wide scale. The challenge is cost: ArrayComm is competing for spectrum also in demand by the giant phone carriers to offer their high-speed "3G" mobile phone Web-browsing services.

Auctions for such wireless real estate have run into the billions of dollars, prices that are prohibitive for smaller companies such as ArrayComm. The company was able to buy its spectrum rights for a mere $5 million in Australia because that country has sold smaller pieces, in individual lots, than have the United States or most European countries.

"Australia has very clever regulatory policy regarding (third-generation wireless) spectrum," said Nitin Shah, the company's executive vice president. "This is something we have talked to the (United States Federal Communications) Commission about, that there are innovative things that can be done with a small amount of spectrum."

ArrayComm's technology is aimed at giving portable devices, such as game machines or stereos, connections of about one megabit per second, or nearly 20 times faster than an average dial-up modem. The company already has attracted Sony as an investor and partner, although no specific product announcements have been made around that relationship.

i-Burst, like other wireless services, needs wireless spectrum to operate. ArrayComm's roots are in building technology to let mobile phones use spectrum more efficiently, so the company argues that it will need less spectrum than an equivalent service using other 3G technologies.

Nevertheless, any spectrum is hard to come by in the United States. Citing cost concerns, ArrayComm and others are now petitioning regulators for a new policy that divides some pieces of the spectrum up into smaller parts so that new services have a chance to evolve.

ArrayComm is now looking for infrastructure partners to help it lay the groundwork for i-Burst in Australia, Shah said.