S'pore gets first commercial WiMax service

Internet service provider QMax will begin offering wireless broadband services targeted at consumers and small businesses this quarter.

SINGAPORE--The country's first commercially-ready WiMax base station is up and running, and it will begin supporting wireless broadband services by March this year.

QMax Communications today unveiled plans to offer pre-mobile WiMax services initially to selected estates across the island-state, marking the end of a long wait for commercial releases of such services.

The wireless broadband ISP (Internet service provider) is a joint venture between ISP Qala Singapore and entertainment equipment maker Creative Technology, a Singapore-based company recognized globally for its soundcards and tussles with arch MP3 rival Apple Computer.

QMax has already set up a Navini Networks base station on top of a building in the Bukit Timah area, and plans to begin offering wireless broadband services to nearby residents this quarter. Located in the western-central part of Singapore, Bukit Timah is dotted by government-owned flats, landed property and private condominiums.

QMax is planning to offer various pre-mobile WiMax service plans, with access speeds ranging from 256Kbps to 2Mbps. Targeted at consumers, small offices/home offices and small businesses, these service packages will include modems and PCMCIA cards, and will likely be bundled with third-party software and hardware products such as MP3 players and voice over Internet Protocol tools.

Pricing and actual product bundle details will only be made available during the official launch, according to company officials. However, the service bundles will "definitely be very competitive", said Alex Tan, director of QMax Communications, who hinted that this could mean offering price plans that are cheaper than those currently available in the market.

Tan said: "We think wireless broadband has been long-awaited…[and] we don't want to wait three to four years before 802.16e is ready."

Although the first set of fixed WiMax products--based on the 802.16-2004 standard--were officially certified this week, specifications for the 802.16e mobile WiMax standard were only recently approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Chipsets that are 802.16e-enabled will be manufactured in large volumes only by 2008 and 2009.

More about WiMax
Using radio waves, WiMax is a wireless technology capable of providing high-speed data or broadband connections over long distances. Similar to how Wi-Fi works, WiMax allows users to surf the Web at high data speeds--up to 75Mbps--without using a cable and at a distance of up to 30 miles.
But while laptops are now typically embedded with Wi-Fi ready chipsets such as Intel Centrino, mobile users for now will need to insert a PCMCIA card to access a WiMax network. Chipsets that are 802.16e-enabled are forecast to be manufactured in large volumes only in 2008 and 2009.
There are several variants of the WiMax standard classified under the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.16 standard, including fixed WiMax which is based on the 802.16-2004 standard, and mobile WiMax, also known as the 802.16e standard.
The first set of fixed WiMax products were officially certified this week, but specifications for mobile WiMax standard were only recently approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Rather than wait for the IEEE to formally approve and release the specifications, most equipment makers have gone ahead to release products based on pre-approved WiMax standards, which are sometimes referred to as 'pre-WiMax' products.

    Tan has assured that customers will be offered a modem upgrade, either software or firmware, once the standard is formally available and certified for commercial use.

    Going nationwide
    QMax plans to extend its mobile WiMax coverage across the island, but how quickly it does so will depend on "market circumstances" and user demand, Tan said.

    He estimates that it would take between 100 and 200 base stations to support nationwide coverage in Singapore, costing as much as S$100 million (US$61.6 million), and it could take about two years to complete. The base stations operate on a backhaul infrastructure that is supported by a mix of fiber optics, copper and wireless.

    To ensure network performance is not compromised, Tan said the company will configure each base station to cover an area circumference of between one and two kilometers (km), even though a base station can comfortably handle an area circumference of more than three kilometers.

    "We don't want to give WiMax a bad name," Tan said, acknowledging that some service providers in other markets have had to deal with inconsistent bandwidth connection and poor coverage.

    While coverage can be "scaled up fairly quickly" once the service is officially launched, QMax will "take the time" to ensure there is reliable network performance for every user, Tan said.

    If necessary, the company will approach the authority for additional spectrum lots, he said, adding that QMax owns six 2.3GHz wireless broadband spectrum lots.

    QMax's announcement comes barely a week after Singapore's mobile operator MobileOne kickstarted a one month-long wireless broadband trial.