Spain sprouts WiMax network

Europe appears to be fertile ground for new WiMax networks. Spain is the latest country to embrace the emerging high-end broadband wireless technology, following recent deployments in France, Ireland and the U.K.

Spanish wireless operator Iberbanda SA has begun to install WiMax systems supplied by Alvarion Ltd., according to Bridget Fishleigh, a spokeswoman for the Tel Aviv, Israel, manufacturer.

“Iberbanda has been using proprietary wireless local loop technology from Alvarion since 2001 but has now decided to expand its growing network in Spain with WiMax,” Fishleigh said Tuesday.

WiMax technology, based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.’s 802.16 standard, can provide broadband wireless over longer distances and at higher speeds than current Wi-Fi systems. Its access range is up to about 48 kilometers, compared to Wi-Fi’s 90 meters. It supports data transmission speeds up to 70M bps (bits per second), compared to the popular Wi-Fi 802.11b standard’s 11M bps or Wi-Fi 802.11a’s 54M bps.

The WiMax Forum, established in 2001 by a number of industry heavyweights, has been working on standards certification and interoperability testing. The first generation WiMax systems, based on the 802.16-2004 standard, are expected to be certified by the middle of next year.

Alvarion is a founding member of the WiMax Forum. Numerous operators, including Iberbanda, plan to deploy WiMax mostly in rural areas, where high-speed cable infrastructure is either poor or non-existent.

Iberbanda is targeting small and medium-size enterprises and residential customers in Andalusia, Spain’s second largest and most highly populated region, and Catalonia.

Alvarion’s customer premises equipment currently costs around US$200 a unit, but the company expects the price to drop below $50 when new chips from Intel Corp. become available, Fishleigh said.

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