BARCELONA – WiMax, the long- range wireless Internet standard backed by technology giants like Alcatel-Lucent, Intel, Nokia and Samsung, is unlikely to be appear as a new feature on cellphones any time soon. But it is already helping broadband Internet access reach across the digital divide.
At the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona this week, industry insiders and analysts disagreed about when WiMax might arrive as standard mobile fare — or even whether WiMax would help or hurt the current networks at the cutting edge of mobile telephony.
WiMax, which stands for worldwide interoperability for microwave access, is a sort of super Wi-Fi that can reach out across dozens of miles. Whereas early versions could work only from a fixed position, with a receiver perched on top of a building getting the signal and transferring it down to a personal computer, the latest version can reach out to laptops and smaller devices that are in motion.
Intel, which accelerated the adoption of Wi-Fi with its Centrino laptop chips, is putting its muscle behind WiMax in a similar fashion, developing chips for laptops and networks and providing seed money to smaller companies. Alcatel-Lucent, Motorola, Samsung Electronics, Nokia and smaller companies like Alvarion of Israel are also firmly backing the technology.
WiMax got a huge lift as a mobile alternative this summer when Sprint-Nextel said it would invest $3 billion to make WiMax into a kind of “fourth generation” mobile phone network. Still, analysts say cellphones that can use WiMax are a long way from being common, and most operators that have invested in third- generation networks will be reluctant to spend a lot of money on something new.
But WiMax already has its place in developing markets where fixed-line phones are nonexistent and cellphone networks are more primitive.
“DSL just does not exist in Africa,” said Stefano Mattiello, Motorola’s regional sales director for sub-Saharan Africa, about the main broadband Internet connection in Europe. “And I can guarantee you one thing: People are not going to start digging up the countryside to lay fiber.”
In parts of Africa, 3G cellphone networks became profitable quickly because they brought high-speed Internet access to areas that had none before. For remote areas without 3G, WiMax could be the answer, Mattiello said.
“WiMax is a wireless DSL technology” that is easier to install, he said. “Countries like Uganda are aggressively deploying WiMax networks.”
On Wednesday, Samsung announced that it would install a WiMax network in Gauteng, South Africa, using the latest version of the technology. Samsung is providing the technology to a company called Altech, which will test services with a view to starting a mass deployment in the second half of the year, said Kyungju Lee, a vice president in Samsung’s network division. He said in an interview that the company had WiMax deals in 23 different countries.
Also Wednesday, Motorola said it had set up WiMax networks in 17 cities in Pakistan, including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, for Wateen Telecom.
This week, Alcatel-Lucent said it had been hired by a company called Onemax to help it roll out a network in the Dominican Republic, which the companies said would be the first WiMax network to provide full coverage of a Caribbean country.
Olivier Baujard, chief technology officer at Alcatel-Lucent, said in an interview that the company was focusing WiMax efforts in India. In “the 80 or 90 percent of the territory in a country like India where there is no fixed infrastructure,” he said, “copper maybe never will make sense.”
Subodh Bhargava, chairman of VSNL, which is affiliated with Tata Group of India, last week predicted that within three years, 10 million to 20 million people in India would use WiMax for broadband connections. Currently, there are only 700,000 retail broadband connections in India, he said, many of them improvised cable hookups.
Sylvain Fabre, an analyst with Gartner, a consulting company, said the speed at which WiMax could be put into place could favor start-up providers. “In emerging countries, a lot of stuff cannot be rolled out fast enough,” he said. “The speed at which you can roll this out gives these players a competitive advantage.”
Fuente: International Herald Tribune