Australia a step closer to WiMAX

Wireless broadband users could enjoy maximum surfing speeds of 75 megabits per second by mid-2006, analysts say.WiMax, the common name for the 802.

Wireless broadband users could enjoy maximum surfing speeds of 75 megabits per second by mid-2006, analysts say.

WiMax, the common name for the 802.16 wireless broadband standard, is an alternative to cable and DSL (digital subscriber line). Compared with the popular Wi-Fi protocol that works in short distances, WiMax is said to be able to operate up to 50km.

According to the WiMAX Forum, 802.16 will provide fixed , nomadic, portable and, eventually, mobile wireless broadband connectivity without the need for direct line-of-sight with a base station.

To start the ball rolling in Australia, regional pay TV provider Austar and wireless Internet supplier Unwired have signed a spectrum agreement -- which is seen as a wise step by analysts.

Austrar traded a portion of its 2.3GHz licenses in return for some of Unwired's 3.5GHz licenses. The latter will also make a supplementary cash payment of $15 million to the pay TV company.

"It's a good deal. The lack of easy access to spectrum is one of the main issues we have with the takeup of WiMAX," said Ovum research director Neale Anderson.

Gartner research director Robin Simpson agreed.

"It's a smart move for Unwired because I think [it's] important spectrum for WiMAX.

"2.3 is better for urban areas. It has better building penetration than 3.5," Simpson said, adding Austrar has a business model and recognised brand in regional areas through its pay TV business.

In terms of availability, Ovum's Anderson believes fixed WiMAX could be a reality -- from Unwired -- by mid-next year.

As for pricing, it's still to early to tell. At the moment, Unwired's wireless Internet plans start from $16 for 32kbps.

The impact on Telstra will not be evident in the near term, Anderson said. "Telstra's EV-DO has been very popular with the business community. Further out though, the implications will be greater."

Going far and wide
The partnership between Austar and Unwired is seen as a boon for regional Australia but the latter has its eye firmly set on metropolitan rollout.

"We can sell in regional areas if we want but we will concentrate on building metropolitan area infrastructure," said Unwired chairman Peter Shore.

Unwired claims to have 25,000 subscribers in Sydney. Next year, the ISP will install the first base stations based on the 802.16e standard.

On the surface the deal is set to create a roaming network where Internet users -- especially those who travel -- will have constant, wireless nationwide coverage.

Although, Ovum's Anderson believes mobile WiMAX is going to take some time, he feels Unwired is in pole position. "Only at the end of 2007 will we see notebook chips with WiMAX compatibility.

"In all [world] markets there are limited spectrum opportunities for mobile WiMAX. But now, Unwired has access to both," Anderson said.