Around the world in WiMax

Summary:WiMax is gaining grounds around the world, despite initial setbacks and related financial issues in some countries.

WiMax, the controversial long range wireless broadband technology, is set to spread across rural Australia from next year--but despite the outgoing Howard government's ambitious project, both fixed and mobile variants of the technology are already being deployed around the world.

Australia
Australia is in some ways a testbed for WiMax, following an announcement earlier this year that the Howard government was to put some US$884 million (AU$1 billion) into a scheme to cover Australia's bush with a WiMax network.

The network will be built by OPEL, a joint venture between telco Optus and rural group Elders and will involve a similar scale of investment from the company.

The network, which will use the fixed variant of WiMax 802.16d, is scheduled to go live in 2009 and will provide speeds of up to 12Mbps, according to the Howard government.

Since OPEL took the contract, the WiMax network has generated numerous headlines and even a court case.

But while it may end up theoretically the most widespread in the country, other Australian WiMax networks are likely to spring up while some are already up and running: BigAir has networks in Sydney and Melbourne, for example.

Unwired, currently in the throes of a takeover dance with broadcaster Seven, has already licensed a portion of spectrum in the WiMax designated range and intends to upgrade to mobile WiMax--802.16e--in the future. Currently it uses a proprietary WiMax-like long range wireless system from Navini.

Would-be acquirer Seven has sized up the possibilities of WiMax already, saying it can see the wireless technology as both a delivery mechanism for both broadband and for multicast and broadcast content.

Austar too has WiMax spectrum, but is yet to deploy a network, hoping business models will evolve soon.

North America
U.S. mobile operator Sprint Nextel has been the chief proponent of WiMax and has committed to building a network covering 100 million users across the United States, with a commercial launch slated for the end of 2008.

However, the plans have recently been thrown into doubt, following the departure of CEO Gary Foresee and the end of an agreement with WiMax provider Clearwire the project is now overshadowed by doubts about its long-term future.

Sprint Nextel maintains that the network will go ahead but it will be reviewing its WiMax business plans.

Canada--plagued with some of the same geographical challenges to communications as Australia--has its own fair share of WiMax networks: Bell Canada and Rogers Wireless have spawned Inukshuk Wireless, a 90-center wireless network using pre-WiMax technology, for example.

Mexico too has some WiMax-like technology deployed, including a network using Navini proprietary tech based on 802.16e. The network will cover 3.2 million points of presence, according to the operator.

WiMax can also be found at sea in Mexico, connecting 11 Pemex offshore oil platforms, an average of 16km out to sea in the Gulf of Mexico.

Asia
Taiwan has been one of the most enthusiastic adopters of WiMax and plans to have the island blanketed with wireless broadband in a project known as M-Taiwan. The network is scheduled to go live from the end of the year, with six operators charged with providing connectivity.

The country is hoping to become a testbed and manufacturing centre for WiMax equipment and is reportedly spending US$664 million to make it happen.

South Korea too has been something of a WiMax enthusiast, adopting WiBro (short for wireless broadband). WiBro is an early iteration of mobile WiMax and is sold in Seoul and other cities for a flat fee by local telco KT and mobile operator SK Telecom.

Handily, WiBro is compatible with mobile WiMax and is already giving users a taste of what they can expect once the standard sees mass adoption--unbroken connectivity whilst moving at speed, for example.

Needless to say, Japan is already experimenting with WiMax and is planning to award a handful of licenses before the end of the year. Interestingly, however, it's not letting the usual suspects--mobile operators--take too much control over wireless broadband.

According to reports, mobile companies are now only allowed to take up to a third stake in Japanese WiMax bids, leaving the phone operators to typically partner with broadband providers, as well as securities companies, for licenses.

China too has been looking at WiMax and a number of small-scale networks have been rolled out, some with the help of Intel, one of the technology's chief cheerleaders.

With the Beijing Olympics looming, some of the country's mobile operators, including China Mobile, have considered turning to WiMax in place of 3G after repeated delays to the issuing of third-generation licenses.

Topics: Networking, Mobility, Wi-Fi

About

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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