Taiwan readies WiMax auction, first major test site

Taiwan is finalizing rules for a WiMax license auction and preparing its first major WiMax testing zone

Taiwan is moving forward on its wireless broadband Internet initiative by finalizing rules for an upcoming WiMax license auction and preparing its first major WiMax testing zone, officials said Tuesday.

The island hopes to be among the world leaders in adopting WiMax. Part of the idea is to boost Taiwanese companies, which already manufacture a lot of related IT gear, by promoting the technology. Officials also want to ensure speedy wireless Internet access for even the most remote areas of the island.

WiMax base stations can send broadband Internet signals to far greater distances than the Wi-Fi technology it is meant to replace. Although estimates vary on how far WiMax signals can go, in a densely populated place such as Taiwan, where users are not likely to be positioned within sight of access points, the distance should be between 2 km to 4 km.

By the end of this year, government officials will finalize rules for a WiMax license auction meant to dole out radio spectrum to network operators. Currently, the government is debating how many WiMax licenses to issue. The National Communications Commission (NCC), which is charged with creating policy related to WiMax, wants to see nine licenses auctioned. But the ministry under which the NCC operates is pressing for just two, an NCC spokesman said.

He said officials still plan to have auction rules in place by the end of this year, despite the disagreement.

Early next year, the island's biggest telecommunications service operator, Chunghwa Telecom, will start work on a WiMax test site in Luo-Dong Township, on the northeast coast of Taiwan. By mid-year, over a third of the town's residents will be able to access the network, and the rest of the town will be covered by the end of 2007, said Hsu An-ling, a Chunghwa representative.

In early 2008, Chunghwa will expand the network to the rest of Yilan County, where Luo-Dong is located.

Nortel Networks is providing mobile WiMax base stations based on the IEEE 802.16e standard for the project, which include antennas capable of demanding applications such as VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) and voice over WiMax.

WiMax gained a huge boost earlier this year when U.S. operator Sprint Nextel announced plans to build a coast-to-coast network using the technology. The company hopes to launch trials by the end of next year, and expand coverage to 100 million [m] people in 2008. WiMax needed the push because it competes with technologies that could be used in its stead, such as Wi-Fi and 3G (third generation) HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) technology.

Taiwanese mobile phone service operator Far Eastone Telecommunications recently started offering HSDPA in Taiwan.

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