WiMax seen growing fast globally

SDEROT, Israel (Reuters) - An emerging long-range, high-speed wireless technology is expected to spread quickly and be available globally within two years, a key backer of the so-called WiMax technology said on Tuesday.

A worker sets up a display of laptop computers at the Intel booth as exhibitors prepare for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, January 6, 2008. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

“In a year or two, we will see it in many metro zones and areas of heavy demand,” Dan Eldar, head of Intel’s design center in Israel where the WiMax technology was being developed, told Reuters. “It will take time to reach a massive deployment.”

Sprint Nextel, the number three U.S. wireless carrier, said on Tuesday it was soft-launching its Xohm mobile Internet service for employees in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington D.C. ahead of a commercial WiMax launch later in 2008 in select U.S. cities.

Sprint Nextel has said it will spend $5 billion by 2010 on a WiMax network using the new 802.16e standard. Smaller mobile carrier Clearwire is also planning a WiMax network.

WiMax, which is expected to bring in higher revenues to the telecoms sector, allows for high-speed Internet connections in the tens of megabits per second -- far faster than the very popular WiFi, which users connect to networks over short distances.

“It will enable the same type of (broadband Internet) on the road as you have at home,” said Gaby Waisman, general manager of Europe for Alvarion, an Israeli maker of WiMax modems and equipment.

WiMax can cover a stretch of as much as tens of kilometers, depending on the number of users. In New York City, for example, many base stations will be required around the city to meet the heavy demand, while a sparsely populated region will need fewer, Eldar noted.

He said that in addition to the United States, mobile WiMax is close to being rolled out in some European and Asia-Pacific countries including Russia and Japan.

“Estimates for the number of subscribers to WiMax ranges from the high tens of millions to more than 100 million in the next four, five years,” Eldar said before a news conference to mark the start of a WiMax trial by Intel, Alvarion and 012 Smile.Communications in the southern city of Sderot.

Sderot, which has been hit hard by rocket fire from Palestinian militants, will be the first test of WiMax in Israel. Further rollout in the country depends on the success of the trial and how quickly the Communications Ministry allocates licenses to telecoms providers.

Intel, the world’s largest microprocessor maker, has made a large bet that mobile WiMax will take off and is the developer of chipsets for WiMax.

Higher-end notebook computers will have WiMax technology built in starting later in 2008, though WiMax cards that plug into a slot in the computer will also be available. Companies such as Nokia, Motorola and Samsung Electronics were also making mobile devices and infrastructure with WiMax technology.

Non-mobile WiMax using the 802.16d standard has been around for a while, but mobile WiMax has taken longer due to the need for countries to assign licenses and telecoms companies to build infrastructure.

Waisman said Alvarion has more than 200 deployments of fixed WiMax around the world, particularly in France and Spain.

Editing by Will Waterman