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Report: WiMax won't take off soon

Much-hyped broadband wireless technology won't get its big break for another five years, analysts say.

Despite a lot of recent attention, the wireless broadband technology WiMax is years away from wide use--and will take root in Europe and Asia before spreading to U.S. shores, according to a report.

More than 7 million subscribers worldwide will get wireless broadband access from carriers selling WiMax services by the end of 2009, according to a report released this week by research firm Parks Associates. Carriers will start with equipment using the fixed version of WiMax, which means the service will initially be available only to subscribers in homes and businesses.

WiMax is radio technology that promises two-way Internet access at several megabits per second, with ranges of several miles. Backers of the technology believe it can challenge DSL and cable broadband services because it offers similar speeds but costs carriers less to set up, since installation doesn't require roads to be torn up.

The up-and-coming technology is expected to be particularly useful at getting broadband service to remote areas economically or physically out of read of conventional wired networks. WiMax will probably find its first success in Europe and Asia, said Parks Associates senior analyst Michael Cai.

Companies selling WiMax products and services will find fertile ground in developing countries, where the need for voice and data services is hampered by poor wireline infrastructure.

WiMax has recently pulled ahead of competing wireless broadband technologies-in-development. The standard for fixed WiMax, 802.16-2004, was approved by an industry body late last month, which should spur development and sales of lower-cost equipment. However, testing and certifying that gear will take time. High-volume shipments of those products are not expected until 2006.

Another WiMax standard, 802.16e, is in development. It will allow mobile devices to send and receive data, promising unwired broadband connections beyond the home or office desktop.