WiMax in the Philippines: What now?

Something amusing, if not intriguing, happened last Wednesday when tech giant Intel held a press conference regarding its WiMax strategy in the country. At that briefing, Intel execs said that while they are pushing very hard for the technology, the decision to roll out a commercial WiMax service is still up to the local players, particularly telcos.

Something amusing, if not intriguing, happened last Wednesday when tech giant Intel held a press conference regarding its WiMax strategy in the country. At that briefing, Intel execs said that while they are pushing very hard for the technology, the decision to roll out a commercial WiMax service is still up to the local players, particularly telcos.

There were some sarcastic comments from the local IT press when Intel officials asked if there were any news regarding Globe Telecom's WiMax launch in the Philippines. The reporters were not able to contain their chuckles because the Ayala- and Singtel-owned mobile operator was supposed to launch its WiMax offering last October. But, that hasn't happened yet--at least, that's what we thought.

Little did we know, however, that almost at the same time that day, Globe issued an announcement (I'm not sure though if it was through a press conference) saying it has finally launched the first WiMax service in the country. I learned about this when news stories came out in the papers the following day.

Since Intel wasn't aware of Globe's pronouncement, I'm sure the operator went with a different technology partner this time, presumably, ZTE or Huawei. In 2005, Intel and Globe conducted a pilot test for WiMax at Trece Martirez in Cavite. In that trial deployment, WiMax radio antennas (also called CPE or customer premise equipment) were installed in the houses of participating Intel employees.

The results, probably, were not that impressive since there was hardly any information that came out from that trial run. It even took four years for Globe to make a gamble on WiMax. But, that's now water under the bridge...

At the Intel press conference, officials argued that recent technological advances have made WiMax an interesting proposition and ripe for commercial deployment. The company said it's now putting huge resources in WiMax, similar to what it did with Wi-Fi.

Unlike Wi-Fi, which is designed for local area networks (LANs), WiMax is optimized for metropolitan area networks (MANs), which means that WiMax has a much larger coverage than Wi-Fi. However, both technologies will coexist as WiMax complements Wi-Fi by extending its reach and providing a "Wi-Fi like" user experience on a larger geographical scale. WiMax is also intended to complement 3G as it is expected to fill the areas which WiMax cannot cover.

I don't have complete information yet on Globe's WiMax offering, but I read the service will be initially available in selected areas in South Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. According to news reports, Globe's WiMax package charges users 795 pesos (US$16.5) per month.

So, WiMax is finally here. I hope it achieves the level of adoption that Wi-Fi has attained and that Smart, the biggest mobile operator, will jump into the fray as well.

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