Independent telco Townes-Telecommunications is betting that a new technology based on cognitive radio from xG Technology may offer some potential for rural wireless applications that can offer both voice and broadband. xG features cognitive radio technology in its solutions, which puts a higher level of intelligence in the handset, minimizing the intelligence required in base stations and other network equipment, said George Schmitt, an xG Technology director in an interview with Telecompetitor.

Some readers may remember Schmitt as former CEO of Primeco and later head of Omnipoint, which eventually became T-Mobile. Today, in addition to serving on the xG board, Schmitt is CEO of MB Technology Holdings, an xG investor.

“It’s the cost and size of the chips that have made cognitive radios a reality,” said Schmitt.

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Because cognitive radio networks are less complex than traditional cellular networks, they should be less costly to deploy, Schmitt said. Perhaps even more importantly for rural operators, the equipment—known as xMax–is designed to use unlicensed spectrum. Intelligence built into the phone can sense a rise in interference from other devices using the spectrum and hop away from that frequency, Schmitt explained. As a result, he said, “We can go into frequencies that are considered garbage today and use them to give effective service.”

Initially the xMax equipment will operate between 902 and 928 MHz—a band that is used in the U.S. for garage door openers, baby monitors, cordless phones and some video surveillance. But in the future, Schmitt said, the equipment could leverage other spectrum as well.

“When you look at the total spectrum between 500 MHz and 5 GHz, there is more than 100 MHz of free spectrum,” said Schmitt. In comparison, he said, most mobile operators have about 25 MHz of spectrum per market.

Currently xG’s offering is limited to output of just 1 watt, which enables the technology to cover a radius of about 4.5 to 5 miles, Schmitt said. But the company is hoping to be allowed to transmit at 5 to 10 watts in rural areas, which would enable coverage of close to 20 miles, he said.

The xMax equipment is currently being used in an internal trial in Lewisville, Ark. with rural network operator Townes Tele-Communications. Currently the network only supports voice service, but eventually the equipment is expected to support mobile data at rates of up to 4.5 Mb/s. Townes Tele-Communications plans to expand its trial to include an additional market soon.

One of the goals of the trial with Townes Tele-Communications, an investor in Schmitt’s MB Technology Holdings,  is to position xG to obtain approval for its equipment from the Rural Utilities Service, enabling rural network operators to use RUS loans to construct networks using the technology.

Ben Dickens, general counsel for Townes Tele-Communications, said rural operators may want to consider wireless technologies as a “hedge” against Universal Service reforms that could shift more funding toward wireless networks.

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