Mobile operator Cell C revealed it is conducting tests to determine the feasibility of rolling out a WiMax network in SA. “A WiMax network could rival [Telkom's] ADSL both in terms of performance and price,” said base station subsystems engineering manager at Cell C Jitesh Huri. He spoke to ITWeb on the sidelines of AMC's Broadband Strategies for the Mobile Market conference, in Sandton yesterday.

There are no firm intentions to roll-out the technology just yet, Huri cautioned. The trials (which have been conducted at Cell C's Johannesburg offices since early in the year) are to determine the viability of WiMax from a technological and business perspective, he said.

“At the moment, the trial is done with pre-WiMax equipment, but it gives us a good indication of what WiMax could deliver – each radio we're using can deliver [theoretical downlink speeds of] 14Mbps.”

Cell C is preparing to expand the scope of the trial by inviting participants in the business district of Sandton to test the technology, though Huri was hesitant to reveal further details. He noted the IEEE 802.16e version of WiMax will offer non-line of sight coverage, essential for an effective network.

He declined to comment on whether WiMax will complement or compete with existing cellular 3G services, saying both have advantages. 3G offers great mobility, he said, but it is limited in terms of the capacity (and thus ineffective when there are a number of simultaneous subscribers) and connection speeds.

“However, any WiMax deployment, wherever it is, will be limited to the customer premises equipment capabilities.”  During tests, Cell C has recorded speeds better than ADSL, Huri said. Huri is unable to predict how long the trials may last, or discuss the possibility of roll-outs, citing corporate communication policies. “We have not yet presented any proposals to the Cell C board.”

Earlier this month, Cell C made a belated entrance into the wireless broadband market with the commercial roll-out of an EDGE service, designed – it says – to target the home-PC user market.