Intel launches WiMax trials in Asia

Trials set to begin in Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines by year-end, and formal service roll-outs in two or three years.

SINGAPORE--Intel, the world's largest microchip maker, said on Thursday it expected to implement trials of the emerging wireless broadband technology called WiMax in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines by year-end.

Intel, which makes the microprocessor chips that function as the brains of more than 80 percent of the world's personal computers, has been the driving force behind the deployment of WiMax, a wireless data network that promises to blanket entire cities with high-speed Internet links.

"The trials of the technology are starting now, and we see (commercial) roll-out worldwide over the next two to three years," Sean Maloney, the head of Intel's mobility unit, told Reuters. "But it's patchy--some places will be faster than others."

Indonesia and Vietnam would be next in line to try out the technology next year, he added.

Intel has carried out trials with 100 telecoms carriers globally, including 25 in the Asia Pacific region. It is also helping South Korea's top fixed-line and broadband operator KT Corp. set up WiMax in its domestic market.

South Korea is set to be the leader in WiMax, with commercial roll-out seen in the first half of next year, Maloney added.

Banking on WiMax
In a bid to grow beyond the PC box, Intel has spent millions investing in , touting it as the long-distance broadband Internet sibling of Wi-Fi, the wireless computer standard popularized in coffee bars and restaurants.

The company, which has been punished by investors for its close ties to the highly cyclical PC market, can no longer count on computer demand to expand at the same rapid clip as before.

Intel, which competes with smaller rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc., also plans to build WiMax chips into laptop chipsets. That strategy parallels one it adopted two years ago, when it started selling Wi-Fi chips as a part of the Centrino range of notebook computers.

"WiMax will be one of those growth avenues, and everything to do with mobile computing as well," Maloney said.

"Sales of notebooks, PCs and general computer infrastructure following WiMax will benefit Intel--if you enable more and more people to get connected to the Internet, it's likely more people will end up buying computers."

Maloney said Intel would usually work with the regulator or government in each country, as well as some of the largest telecoms carriers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

It is working with True Corp., which owns TA Orange PCL, Thailand's third-largest mobile operator, and Telekom Malaysia, the country's dominant phone company.

Leighton Phillips, director of Intel's Southeast Asia solutions group, said the company was collaborating with five government agencies and three companies in Thailand, which would provide a critical mass to implement wireless broadband services for the rural population.

Intel believes WiMax can facilitate delivery of better educational services and health care, and can help improve agricultural productivity and incomes, Phillips added.

"About 65 to 70 percent of the community is rural suburban in Southeast Asia--about 300 million people, which is a little bit less than the U.S., and for a government that's interested in economic development, this is high on the agenda," he said.

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