WiMAX stars at Asia’s leading IT trade fair

Companies attending Asia’s leading information technology trade fair are showcasing their latest products marking a new era of fast video, mobile and Internet services at low prices.

While consumers are already able to enjoy television, films and mobile services on their cellphones using third generation (3G) know-how, they may struggle with data transmission glitches, experts say.

"But no more," said Tsai Chang-yi, of Taiwan’s Gemtek Technology, a wireless equipment company and one of 1,333 exhibitors at the Taipei International Information Technology Show that opened Tuesday.

"That kind of complaint will be gone. Television programmes will be viewed nicely on one’s cellphones, and that day is coming," he said of the fast-developing WiMAX technology.

Making what Tsai described as an "quantum leap" possible is the fourth generation (4G) wireless high-speed Internet service, better known as WiMAX.

WiMAX stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access and is similar to the more familiar WiFi (wireless fidelity) that most laptops are equipped with.

"Under the WiMAX framework, the data rate of portable broadband access like laptops stands at two megabytes per second (Mbps)" or eight times faster than 3G, Tsai said.

And data delivery can reach speeds of up to seven megabytes per second for fixed-access users in offices and homes.

"To end-users, another incentive would be low prices … thanks to the relatively low construction cost of WiMAX base stations," Tsai said.

Industry sources put the cost of each WiMAX base station, or transmitting and receiving hub, at close to two million Taiwan dollars (60,600 US), about one-fourth of the cost for the 3G version.

A longer operation distance is another attraction to investors jumping on the bandwagon.

Theoretically, WiMAX base stations have a range of up to 10 kilometres (six miles) – though the distance is reduced to three to four kilometres in urban areas – compared with one kilometre for 3G stations.

"The inauguration of WiMAX mechanism is especially fast in India, Pakistan, and the Middle East where infrastructure construction is not as good as in the industrialised countries," Tsai said.

Giant US chip maker Intel and manufacturer Motorola are investing heavily in WiMAX and deployments of the system are taking shape worldwide.

"The years 2008-09 will witness a huge growth in WiMAX products," another GemteK employee said on condition of anonymity.

"Already, the amount of orders placed with Gemtek as of now this year has doubled to around three billion Taiwan dollars (90.6 million dollars)."

The Taiwanese government plans to issue six regional permits for WiMAX services by the end of this month, and least one national permit within two years, officials said.

Organisers estimate that Asia’s biggest IT trade fair will attract 100,000 local and 32,000 foreign buyers, spending close to 14.5 billion US dollars.

Themes at the three-day event, covered by 2,926 booths, range from computer systems, components, motherboards and storage equipment to opto-electronic display products and car electronics.

The scale of the fair, second only to Germany’s CeBIT show, will be almost double next year with an extra 2,600 booths exhibiting at a new venue.

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WiMAX stars at Asia’s leading IT trade fair