Malaysia finally gets commercial WiMax

After an initial delay, local service provider Packet One Networks is first among country's four licensees to offer commercial WiMax service, targeting 100,000 subscribers within a year.

KUALA LUMPUR--Local broadband services provider Packet One Networks (P1) on Tuesday launched the country's first large-scale commercial deployment of mobile WiMax services.

According to CEO Michael Lai, the service provider is targeting to sign up 100,000 subscribers over the next 12 months. The company is also the first among four companies awarded licenses in March 2007 to operate WiMax services on the 2.3GHz spectrum band in Malaysia.

Packet One's AC powered WiMax modem

Malaysia's first 802.16e mobile WiMax service is now available in selected locations in the Klang Valley region, which encompasses capital city of Kuala Lumpur and the affluent central belt of Selangor state.

By year-end, P1 targets to extend its WiMax network coverage to all major cities and towns in the states of Johor, Penang, Kedah, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Melaka on the West Coast of Peninsula Malaysia.

Established by the WiMax Forum, WiMax is a wireless technology deployed to deliver last-mile wireless broadband access over long distances. Specifications for the 802.16e mobile WiMax were approved in December 2005.

Lai said P1 was "strongly on track" to meet the government's target for licensees to provide WiMax coverage to 25 percent of the country's population by end-2008. He added that P1's service will be extended to cover 40 percent and 65 percent of Malaysia's population of 26 million by 2010 and by 2012, respectively.

P1 originally proclaimed it would roll out Malaysia's first WiMax service in June 2008 but subsequently delayed the launch.

Explaining the delay, Lai said the service provider conducted an extensive user trial "to ensure the WiMax service meets our internal standards of quality".

The operator's WiMax offerings provide data speeds ranging from 400Kkbps to 2.4Mbps. A monthly 1.2Mbps service package costs 99 ringgit (US$29.6) and a 2.4Mbps package is priced at 229 ringgit (US$68.5). Subscribers will have to sign up for a 12-month contract.

The service package includes a WiMax modem, which has to be connected to a power outlet. A USB dongle will be available by year-end, P1 said.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia Monday, Lai revealed that the company invested close to US$100 million in the first phase of its WiMax deployment, which covers 25 percent of the population.

Elaborating on P1's technology partners for the project, Lai said: "Alcatel-Lucent is our current WiMax infrastructure provider, and we have various WiMax partners including, EMC for information infrastructure, Oracle for billing and of course, Intel."

The chipmaker in May invested 50 million ringgit (US$15 million) in P1's parent company, Green Packet, through its investment arm Intel Capital.

Garth Collier, Intel's managing director for WiMax in Asia and Japan, explained: "Intel's investment in P1 is aimed at accelerating the proliferation of standards-based, high-speed wireless broadband globally. P1's deployment of a commercial WiMax network represents a strong endorsement of the technology, and a significant acceleration of WiMax momentum in Asia."

Collier said Intel recently renewed its partnership agreement with the Taiwan Ministry of Economics Affairs (MOEA) to evaluate the creation of a business entity focusing on WiMax systems integration. He added that Taiwanese players from relevant industry segments will also be invited to invest in the new business entity.

According to Collier, Intel is developing WiMax-enabled products in anticipation of an upswing in WiMax adoption. "Intel will initially make its integrated WiMax solution [codenamed Echo Peak] available in the second half of this year, as an option in the Intel Centrino 2 processor technology-based notebook PCs for the U.S. market." He said availability of embedded WiMax products is expected to increase globally in 2009.

Lee Min Keong is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.