Bell Canada is partnering with Clearwire Corp. to develop the expertise it needs to effectively deploy broadband wireless capabilities here in Canada, it says. "This is not a strategic move outside of Canada, but it’s more of a strategic initiative aimed at developing our wireless broadband capabilities, which can then be used in our home market," Scott Thomson, VP of strategy at Bell, tells Report on Wireless.  "This alliance allows us to experience firsthand how Clearwire is (rolling out broadband wireless). I think there is a lot of knowledge and expertise that we’ll be able to bring back to our home market as we deploy. Although we are focused on deploying in rural and under-served areas – because it is a perfect solution for those areas – we are also focused on deploying to all Canadians," he adds.  Under the terms of the agreement, Bell Canada is to become the exclusive supplier of VoIP and other value-added services for Clearwire Corp. in the United States, and its preferred supplier for VoIP and other IP applications in markets beyond North America. Bell Canada will also invest US$100 million in Clearwire and become a shareholder in NR Communications, one of the owners of Inukshuk Internet Inc.  There are three main reasons for entering into an alliance with Clearwire, says Thomson. From a delivery method standpoint, wireless broadband is an innovative and promising access technology and the company wants to be a leader in this field. Secondly, partnering with Craig McCaw, who is a leader in the wireless communications field, can only help the company reach its objectives. Lastly, the alliance will allow the company to leverage its VoIP platform in preparation of a domestic rollout within the next year.  Variety of applications Thomson says it’s still early days with respect to the types of IP applications and services that will be deployed. "But some of the things that we’ve talked about with Clearwire are security applications and remote storage. There’s a variety of applications and as we start to deploy both the wireless broadband offering and the VoIP offering we’ll get more clarity around which applications they actually are," he says.  By partnering with an American company, Bell Canada will provide a lot of exposure to its VoIP platform, and analysts believe there is substantial potential for Bell in the U.S. market.  Wireless broadband has had its share of setbacks in the past as it was once proclaimed to be one of the key equalizers in competitors’ fight for control of a greater share of the local access market. It is only now beginning to show signs of an impact on the access market as technologies such as WiMAX get rolled out in commercial deployments.  Inukshuk Internet, licensed five years ago in the 2.5 GHz band, only began to introduce services in the fall of 2003 after waiting years for technological developments to meet expectations. While its future was just recently considered to be up in the air following Rogers Wireless Inc.’s acquisition of Microcell Telecommunications last fall, Bell Canada’s investment in NR Communications demonstrates that there might yet be a real market for broadband wireless.  Thomson says it’s the company customers who are demanding a diverse portfolio of access services and this is where Inukshuk comes into play. "Our customers are going to want multiple delivery channels for broadband and we have significant investment in DSL, we’re making a significant investment in Ev-DO, and this is an opportunity to take a leadership position in another delivery channel.  Frankly, we believe that the successful service provider in the future will be one that capitalizes on multiple access technologies," he says.  Bell Canada has substantial holdings in the 3.5 GHz fixed wireless access band, but Thomson says that for the immediate future, efforts will focus on the 2.5 GHz band. He adds that experience gained from working with deploying equipment, networks and services over the 2.5 GHz band will go a long way in preparing the company for eventual deployment in the 3.5 GHz band. "Given our alliance with Clearwire and given the cost characteristics of 2.5 GHz spectrum, it makes sense to focus our wireless broadband efforts on the 2.5 GHz band," he says.  Thomson says no decision has been made with respect to deployments in the 3.5 GHz band.  Inexpensive VoIP key But the development of a workable, inexpensive and easy-to-install VoIP over wireless broadband service will be key for Bell Canada when it does decide to roll out services both in the 2.5 GHz and 3.5 GHz band. Deployment of a fixed wireless infrastructure will give the company a broader reach in the high-speed access game.  Moreover, it will also provide the company with a platform upon which to layer additional IP-based services such as IP telephony. With Clearwire’s experience in not only the consumer space but also the small business and small office home office (SOHO) markets, this will be valuable experience for Bell Canada as it looks to offer similar services to Canadians and to business users throughout the country.