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Intel, Telkom Try WiMAX in South Africa

Chipmaking giant Intel and South African carrier Telkom are testing WiMAX technology in hopes of providing a last-mile broadband alternative, the companies announced today.

Telkom, South Africa's largest broadband provider, now has two base stations operating on the WiMAX standard, or 802.16a. According to the company, the WiMAX trials began with a small number of trial customers connected to two sites in Pretoria.

"We have already demonstrated [Voice over Internet Protocol] communication in conjunction with data transmission," Thami Msimango, Telkom managing executive for network infrastructure provisioning, said in a statement.

WiMAX supports very high bit rates in uploading and downloading from a base station up to a distance of 30 miles and is capable of supporting VoIP , high-speed Internet connectivity and other IP services.

Telkom believes the technology could expand its customer base by delivering service to homes that are outside its digital subscriber line or fiber footprints.

Bob Egan, founder of the research firm Mobile Competency, expects more WiMAX tests like the one in South Africa this year.

"In 2005, we'll see a number of trials in developing countries, or less populated areas of developed countries, where there are no alternative wirelines," Egan told internetnews.com.

Egan expects Intel and others to start with rolling out a number of limited WiMAX chips in late 2006. He also said standards groups are making progress on the latest version of WiMAX, which adds mobile capabilities.

In addition to bridging the last mile, some industry-watchers believe WiMAX is well-suited for office parks and educational campuses, as well as a number of unique situations.

For example, oil companies could use WiMAX to send data about pipelines back to a maintenance center, Dale Kutnick, a META Group research fellow, said at a recent conference. If a problem arises, the company would have the data needed to orchestrate a response.

Also, WiMAX systems stationed around shipping and trucking hubs and tied into RFID and video surveillance could help eliminate "shrinkage," the industry's term for goods and services that are lost or stolen in transit.

In a more generic sense, vendors could sell against incumbent telecom carriers on cost, comparing their services with T-1 and other traditional business services.

In other WiMAX news today, Lucent said it will integrate the technology into its wireless service platform, thanks to a partnership with wireless systems specialist Alvarion .

Lucent aims to help service providers deliver communications services across a variety of wireless and wireline networks.

"There's considerable interest in understanding [WiMAX and] its capabilities," Jeff Cortley, director of strategy and business development for Lucent's Mobility Solutions Group, said. "Service providers are certainly interested in testing pre-WiMAX solutions."