Vodafone deploys WiMax in Malta

Fixed WiMax rollout is seen by industry observers as a testbed for a wider deployment by the mobile network operator

Vodafone is deploying a WiMax-based network on the island of Malta, in what is seen as a testbed for wider deployment.

The company announced the Malta network — its first WiMax rollout — on Friday. Offering download speeds of up to 1Mbps, the service follows an "intensive trial period" of the long-range, high-bandwidth wireless technology.

The rollout, in the 3.5GHz frequency, is based on Airspan Networks' HiperMax base stations, which are designed for high-density deployments. Although customers will only be able to access the service from a fixed location, Airspan's equipment is software-upgradeable to the mobile variant of WiMax.

Paul Senior, Airspan's chief technology officer, said the Malta deployment could have wider implications. "Malta is one of Vodafone's classic test markets," he told ZDNet.co.uk. "We understand that there is significant interest in what's being done by Vodafone HQ. Airspan is committed to making it a success and showing that WiMax can support a deployment model that provides a credible service bundle of broadband, fixed telephony and mobile."

But Vodafone played down the significance of the rollout, suggesting that it only formed part of the operator's strategy. "For Malta, they've decided it's the most efficient route to give to their customers, based on a number of factors, such as geographic considerations and the [local] market," a spokesperson for the mobile operator said.

In the UK, the radio spectrum for mobile WiMax could be made available next year when Ofcom auctions radio spectrum in the 2.6GHz range.

However, there is a long-running rivalry between service providers seeking to roll out mobile WiMax and those behind 3G technology, which is more established in western Europe.