Taiwan aims to be largest WiMax test ground

Taiwanese government officials said on Monday they plan to make Taiwan the world’s largest testing ground for WiMax, and inked a pact with Intel Corp. to work together on the wireless broadband technology.

The government will provide around NT$7 billion (US$209 million) in funding for the initiative, in addition to spectrum allocation and other assistance, while Intel is expected to pitch in its technical resources. Next year, the government will provide an additional NT$1.1 billion in research funds specifically for WiMax, a separate budget from the above figure, said Minister of State Lin Ferng-ching.

WiMax, also known as 802.16, is intended to provide users with wireless, high speed Internet access at far greater distances than the current mainstream wireless technology, Wi-Fi.

Taiwan hopes to become a leader in developing products for WiMax, such as PC cards and notebook computers, as well as broadband services, by making itself a leader in the technology, according to Ho Mei-yueh, Taiwan’s economics minister.

Taiwan chose to team up with Intel because the Santa Clara, California, chip maker is among the staunchest proponents of WiMax and already has WiMax chip products available, she said.

“Taiwan notebooks plus Intel inside. I think this is really a win-win project,” said Ho. Taiwanese companies, including Quanta Computer Inc., manufacture a majority of the world’s laptops.

Officials said they hope to have WiMax network coverage for all of the island’s 23 million people by 2007. The capital city of Taipei has been working on providing Wi-Fi access free of charge throughout the city in an ongoing project.

There are more than 100 WiMax trials already going on globally, said Sean Maloney, executive vice president and general manager of Intel’s mobility group. In many areas of the world, the cost of laying out a wireline network for Internet users is prohibitively expensive, he said.

Despite the strong statement of support from Taiwanese government officials on Monday, the plan appears to be still in its infancy. Officials don’t yet have a blueprint for how a network will be deployed, who will run it, or how much citizens will be required to pay for access.

Still, by pledging to lead in field testing for WiMax, putting government funds behind the plan and gathering its technology companies for a push in research and development, Taiwan could become a major player in WiMax hardware and services in the future.

“The chance that Taiwan has to lead in this space is now excellent,” Maloney said.

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