Telkom and Intel have promised to test wireless broadband Internet by December and provide a service next year. But the service quality may depend on where you are.

Telkom and Intel's plans to test wireless broadband Internet access by year-end, using the much-vaunted WiMAX set of standards, may provide a real connectivity solution to rural areas and satisfy a need for high-speed mobile data in cities.

Rueben September, CTO at Telkom, says that, beyond the pilot phase, access to the service will be a reality in March or April next year.

The pilot project will take place in a number of areas, partly because of the need for an accurate representation of market demand and to get an idea of the obstacles likely to be encountered.

"Initially, it will start in Pretoria, soon move on to Johannesburg and then be deployed in other city centres and rural areas across the country."

Danie Steyn, business development manager at Intel SA, says differing service levels will be provided via WiMAX. "Depending on the radius of the coverage area and the bandwidth required by users, the solution is different. The further a user is from a tower, the less bandwidth they are likely to have. In the same way, the more users there are in a coverage area, the less bandwidth each user will have access to," says Steyn.

"In high-density areas, telcos will mostly want to roll out services that cover a three-mile radius per tower and provide throughput levels that are higher than 1Mbps per user."

The partnership also reaches further than Telkom and Intel. "We are also in the throes of signing an agreement with a radio provider, since we will need a partner to install the radio base stations required to connect WiMAX devices to our network," September says. Telkom cannot yet confirm who this partner is.

The rule of thumb is that any application using Internet protocol as its base communication methodology is a candidate for WiMAX. "Typical applications include Web browsing, e-mail, transportation of large data streams, connection to private networks and VOIP," September explains.

Telkom is building a new IP backbone network over something referred to as SDH (synchronous digital hierarchy). "In the meantime the current DSL backbone will deliver WiMAX services," September says.

He anticipates a four-month pilot phase. "The pilot phase is expressly for the purpose of internal testing and we do not want to release a service to the public which will have to undergo teething problems and be subject to interruptions."

The solution will have both a broadband and retail element. "Much like ISPs have access to ADSL from a wholesale perspective, they will have access to WiMAX services.

"We see WiMAX as more of a complementary technology to our portfolio than competition to any of our existing services. An important part of the trial will be to establish what the cost implications are going to be of making such a service available. ADSL has a set growth path to VDSL, yet has more cost implications from an engineering and field operations perspective. In some cases, DSL will be a better and more cost-effective offering, and in others WiMAX will be better."

Initially, September sees WiMAX pegged at a competitive cost level to its ADSL offering.