Taiwan WiMax Rollout Heats up as Deadline Looms

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WiMax wireless broadband service provider Global Mobile opened its first store in Taiwan's capital city on Tuesday, as the island's WiMax companies rush to open for business ahead of a government deadline.

A year ago, the island's WiMax plans appeared dead in the water. Recession was tightening its grip on global industries and had already prompted Nortel Networks to dump mobile WiMax plans as it filed for bankruptcy protection. One of Taiwan's WiMax license holders, First International Telecom (Fitel), put on hold plans to roll out a WiMax network in Taipei due to cash flow troubles and other companies took a wait-and-see approach to the global economy.

Now, companies in Taiwan are opening networks across the land.

Global Mobile unveiled its first operating WiMax network late last year in the Hsinchu Science Park, Taiwan's Silicon Valley. Trials for that network are already over and formal service has already started. The network will announce service for the rest of Hsinchu City by the end of February, according to Yvonne Hsia, assistant sales and marketing manager at Global Mobile.

The company started signing contracts for service at the Neihu Science Park in northern Taipei on Tuesday. The service will be expanded to other areas of Taipei in coming months and should cover the capital city by the middle of this year.

The company is offering a range of service plans, including an all-you-can-use service with a free USB WiMax dongle made by Asustek Computer for a monthly fee of NT$679 (US$21.36), so long as the buyer signs on for two years.

Two of the other six companies with licenses to open WiMax networks in Taiwan have also started their service, and the remaining three companies should be up and running by March, according to Wang Chang-ying, director of the M-Taiwan government program office, which is charged with ensuring people all over Taiwan, including remote mountain villages and offshore islands, will be able to access the Internet wirelessly.

The licenses granted these companies stipulate that they must have networks open by March, she said.

Far EasTone Telecommunications, one of Taiwan's largest mobile phone service providers, launched its WiMax network in Taichung City, the third biggest city in Taiwan, in December.

The first WiMax service to open in Taiwan came from Tatung InfoComm and was launched last April on Penghu, a major outlying island with a population of around 93,000 people. The company also started service in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second-largest city and a major shipping port, and will formally announce networks in Hualien, Penghu and Kaohsiung County soon.

Vmax Telecom, Vee Telecom Multimedia, and Fitel still need to launch their WiMax networks. Vmax has started signing people up for a test run in which users throughout Taipei can access its WiMax network for free. Vee Telecom is expected to open service in Taichung soon, and Fitel will also have a network running in Hsinchu soon.

WiMax high-speed wireless technology has been promoted globally as a speedier replacement for the Wi-Fi technology found in coffee shops and elsewhere.

As part of M-Taiwan, the government has offered generous research grants and co-investment to companies on the island to help jump-start WiMax services. The government will continue to funnel grant money into WiMax applications and testing facilities to make the service more attractive, Wang said.

The government hopes that by promoting WiMax early on, Taiwanese manufacturers will benefit from the global deployment of WiMax products.

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