Malaysia's Packet One Launches WiMax Service

Malaysian WiMax operator Packet One Networks began commercial services Tuesday, marking another step in the ongoing rollout of the broadband wireless technology.

"Our plan is to target 100,000 subscribers in the next 12 months," said Michael Lai, Packet One's CEO, in a telephone interview.

To achieve that goal, Packet One is pricing WiMax access just below the combined cost of an ADSL (asynchronous digital subscriber line) connection and a fixed-line telephone.

Under a promotional package offered with the launch of the service, a 1.2M bps (bits per second) WiMax link will cost 99 ringgit (US$30) per month, with a 12-month contract. A 2.4M bps connection will cost 229 ringgit under the same terms.

A statement released by the company did not offer an indication of what the service will cost when the promotion ends on Sept. 30.

By comparison, Telekom Malaysia's Streamyx ADSL service costs 99 ringgit per month, including a modem, for a 1M bps connection. A 2M bps connection costs 188 ringgit.

Packet One's pricing isn't bad, but fixed-line and wireless operators need to roll out even faster connections, said Dhillon Andrew Kannabhiran, a security consultant and organizer of the Hack In The Box security conferences, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

"I'm personally hoping to see speeds in the region of 10Mbps and above," Kannabhiran said. "2M bps and below isn't what I'd call broadband. Sure, it's fine for surfing and downloading mails, but you can forget about streaming video, like Apple TV, with anything less than 8M bps."

Malaysia has seen relatively low penetration of broadband Internet services, with around 18 percent of households having such access, according to Malaysian government estimates. That number is significantly lower than Asia's most connected markets, such as South Korea and neighboring Singapore, which have penetration rates of 93 percent and 78 percent, respectively.

Malaysia's government is determined to close this gap, hoping to connect 50 percent of households with broadband connections by 2010.

"The increase in broadband penetration is a catalyst to a more robust economy," said Shaziman Abu Mansor, Malaysia's minister of water, energy and communications, according to the transcript of a May speech.

Meeting that target would increase Malaysia's gross domestic product by 1 percent, or 6.7 billion ringgit, and create 135,000 new jobs, he said.

WiMax, alongside other technologies, figures prominently in Malaysia's broadband aspirations. The country has issued four WiMax licenses, using spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 2.5GHz bands. Packet One's service uses the 2.3GHz profile, the same version of the technology used in South Korea.

Packet One's WiMax service is initially aimed at consumers who want fixed-wireless access at home, but the company expects to roll out support for mobile users before the end of this year, Lai said.

Mobile access would require laptop users to have a special USB dongle. Intel, which invested 50 million ringgit in Packet One during May, will start shipping laptop chips that support WiMax later this year, but only in the U.S. These WiMax chipsets, which only support the 2.5GHz profile, will be offered to customers outside the U.S. next year as more WiMax networks come online.

Intel also plans to release versions of the chipset that support the 2.3GHz and 3.5GHz profiles next year.

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