More South African ISP’s and broadband providers are looking at using WiMax as a way of reaching their customers and bringing new services to the market.

iBurst has joined various other telecoms providers and ISP’s in considering WiMax as an alternative way to provide telecoms services to South African businesses and residential customers.

“Wireless broadband provider iBurst is considering a WiMax deployment and has therefore applied for and been issued with WiMax spectrum by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA),” the broadband provider said.

According to the wireless broadband provider they intend to go live with WiMax at the end of 2007, and are currently doing commercial feasibility studies regarding this new technology.

iBurst is joining Telkom, Sentech, SNO, Verizon, Internet Solutions, Vodacom, MTN, CellC and many others in testing WiMax as a possible alternative to existing technologies.

WiMax is touted as a real last-mile alternative to the existing copper infrastructure to bring high-speed broadband services to consumers, but many experts believe that WiMax may not be the silver bullet it is believed to be.

Locally there has been a great deal of hype regarding WiMax, with various companies including Telkom and Sentech having successfully trialed the technology.

This is however as far as anyone has traversed along this path, which means there are currently no commercial WiMax services available in the South African market. Another pressing issue regarding WiMax is the availability and allocation of spectrum. There are bound to be various players competing for this scarce resource, especially in the popular 3.5 GHz WiMax band.

ICASA will have its work cut out to try to make everybody happy when handing out WiMax spectrum.

Telkom has already been given a slice of the 3.5 GHz cake. "Telkom has been allocated 2 x 28MHz bandwidth in the 3.5 GHz spectrum band. Currently a tender process is being concluded to address immediate market demand," Telkom’s Lulu Letlape said.

Telkom said that their WiMax trials, conducted in Pretoria and Durban, were very successful.

Speeds of up to 10 Mbps were achieved, but Telkom pointed out that the throughput is very reliant on issues like signal strength and whether one has line-of-sight or not.

While WiMax can be used to replace fixed lines or other wireless technologies, it will most likely initially not be used as a replacement.

Telkom has indicated that it may utilize this technology in areas where ADSL is not available, like new business areas without a fixed line infrastructure or in neighborhoods where the copper local-loop length is too long to bring ADSL to residents.

The cellular providers may also look at WiMax as an ‘overlay’ technology rather than a replacement for its existing 3G/HSDPA broadband technologies.

At this stage it still remains to be seen what impact WiMax will have on the local telecoms environment. Until the first commercial services see the light it is too premature to say whether it will live up to its hype.

What is certain is that the technology has captured the interest of all the big local telecoms players, and that it is also too early to write WiMax off as an over hyped service pushed by Intel.