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Neotel’s broadband phone unveiled

Gadget can today lift the lid on the first consumer device that will be rolled out by Neotel, South Africa’s second network operator. Alluded to as a “converged device”” in briefings earlier this week, it has emerged that it will be a phone with a high-speed Internet connection, providing “”carrier grade”” voice, as well as broadband data, to consumers in urban areas, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Neotel announced this week that it has concluded pilot tests of a converged telephone device that would be offered to consumers from the end of April.

‚We’re introducing a wireless desktop phone, with a focus on high-performance Internet access, so that we can offer additional services on top of the data access,‚ Neotel CEO Ajay Pandey announced at a briefing this week.

While the pilot tests were alluded to in press briefings, little clarity had been available on the nature of the device or of consumer services.

The Neotel phone, going on sale in late April

Asked by Gadget to elaborate, Pandey confirmed that the device would offer ‚carrier-class‚ voice, high-speed Internet access and SMS functionality. It would not, however, compete with mobile phones, as Neotel was ‚not in the mobile voice game‚ .

Neotel Chief Technical Office Angus Hay elaborated further: ‚Phone numbers will be assigned on an area code basis, and you will be able to use the phone across that area. It is feasible that you can use the same number in another city as well, but that is not the intention at this stage.‚

This means that the phone can be moved anywhere in the house, and even to the subscriber’s office in another suburb, as a super-portable phone, but is not intended to be a mobile phone.

The service will be based on the CDMA-EVDO standard, one of the 3G standards approved globally, which means that a wide variety of equipment is available in large quantities, bringing down costs and creating a wide range of choice. However, the initial hardware offering will be limited to the telephone.

Hay described the phone as a wireless device with a USB port, which allows it to be plugged into a laptop or desktop computer, and which will then provide the computer with broadband access to the Internet. The initial device on offer will not have an Ethernet port, meaning it can’t readily be plugged into a WiFi router for wireless Internet access by other devices, but this may well be an element of subsequent devices.

‚Bear in mind that CDMA has 400-million users globally, and is second only to GSM in technology usage. The chip sets are manufactured according to the 3G standard, and offer peak rates of 2.4Mbps.‚

The Neotel story so far: A network map showing Neotel’s roll-out at the end of March 2008

He believes that Neotel’s service will not suffer the same constraints as that of the mobile networks’ 3G services, which suffer severe degradation as user numbers grow and usage levels peak in certain locations and at certain times of day.

‚The mobile networks have two constraints: their base stations are linked by a limited fibre network to the backhaul connection, and they are peering ‚ or interconnecting ‚ through a limited number of local peering points. We do not have those constraints.

‚We have rolled out a substantial fibre network in urban areas. And we are connected directly to the backbone of the local Internet, through Tata (the major shareholder in Neotel): they have 400 interconnect agreements globally. It’s what’s built into the back-end that differentiates us.‚

It has been made clear that the handse itself is not of great significance: CDMA-compliant devices will quickly offer upgrades and features that may not be contained in the initial device. The significance lies in the arrival of a consumer service, and in the layers of service options that are offered, rather than in the devices themselves.

No doubt five years from now, or even in a year or two, the “”new”” device will be regarded as quaint. For now, it will make some humble history.

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