Telkom and Intel announced last night that they are to trial WiMAX broadband wireless networks locally, to give the end-user wireless alternative connections to the telco's network.Trials are expected to begin in the first part of next year in Pretoria and Durban.

Reuben September, managing executive for Telkom's technology and network services, says the move is aimed at fulfilling a demand in the market and solving broadband issues.

Telkom's Reuben September says this move could see Telkom winning back some of the customers it lost to Sentech. “We believe this is a big step toward getting over the bandwidth issues we have had in the past which have always been attributed to the slow uptake in certain technologies.”

The broadband technology will enable a wireless alternative for the ‘last mile' broadband connectivity for business and residential customers, and will connect many to the Internet for the first time. The so-called 'last mile' is the connection between the end-user and the exchange.

"Delivery of last mile access has and will continue to be one of the biggest technical challenges facing the ICT industry," says September.

He adds that the broadband problem can not only be resolved with DSL or fibre solutions, as customers today want portability and mobility in addition to broadband connectivity.

“Wireless broadband technology has the potential to satisfy these customer demands. In addition, this technology has the potential of opening new market opportunities through filling gaps and complementing the fixed-line networks."

September says this move could see Telkom winning back some of the customers it lost to Sentech, particularly as the wireless connectivity provider has not been popular with its customers recently.

"Broadband wireless networks like WiMAX have particular appeal in emerging market segments like SA, where new areas are being developed that today have limited wired infrastructure,” says John Davies, Intel VP of the Sales and Marketing Group.

He adds that with broadband wireless, companies like Telkom will be able to provide mobile connectivity to customers who have a portable and nomadic lifestyle.

“By 2006/07 Intel sees WiMAX technology being integrated into the first mobile devices such as laptops, PDAs and personal communicators," he says.

The agreement between Telkom and Intel outlines the companies' plans to deploy the necessary infrastructure to take advantage of next-generation WiMAX broadband wireless technology (also known as 802.16). Early work has already begun to identify sites for the network infrastructure and obtain the necessary equipment.

''This agreement is part of Intel's effort to accelerate the deployment of broadband wireless technologies to the approximately 1billion users that already have high-speed access, and bring broadband capability to the next 3billion people around the world who don't,” says Davies.

"Much the way Intel's Centrino mobile technology and WiFi changes the way businesses and individuals now use technology, new communications standards such as WiMAX will further accelerate and expand the benefits of wireless and mobile computing.''

The WiMAX specification is in the process of being ratified by the IEEE, an international body tasked with developing an industry-wide technology standard.

Ratification of the WiMAX standard and subsequent interoperability testing is expected later this year. WiMAX promises to enable high-speed, broadband wireless access across several kilometres to homes and businesses.

Telkom believes standardisation is the driving force for economies of scale and the success of fixed wireless broadband adoption.

"We see wireless broadband as being complementary to fixed broadband services providing a holistic approach to broadband penetration," September concludes.

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