WIMAX, a technology that promises to deliver true broadband speeds to wireless devices, has been approved as a global third-generation communications standard, the UN telecoms agency said yesterday.
The decision means that companies holding so-called "3G" licenses for mobile telecommunications can choose to use their franchise to provide WiMax services to customers in place of slower technologies such as UMTS or EDGE.
Analysts said the deal will boost the fortunes of firms with a stake in the technology, such as California-based Intel Corp. and South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co.
The agreement was reached in a meeting of the International Telecommunication Union late Thursday, after the negotiators overcame the objections of a number of countries to the inclusion of WiMax in the IMT-2000 standard for advanced mobile technologies.
China, a key player when it comes to defining emerging technologies because of its vast consumer potential and growing economic might, was one of those opposing the move because it wants its own wireless broadband standard to be adopted globally.
"The proposal to include WiMax was fraught with difficulty, but it has come through," an ITU official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the issue.
US officials had argued in favor of adopting WiMax as an official IMT-2000 standard alongside other high-speed mobile network technologies.
"We strongly believe in an approach that includes as many technologies as possible, within the appropriate technical parameters, because diversity will lead to greater competition, lower prices and more benefits to consumers," said Richard M. Russell, a White House expert on science and technology.
WiMax, short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, is capable of delivering wireless broadband connections at speeds of 70 megabits per second or more across an area of up to 40 miles (64 kilometers). This is higher than many fixed-line broadband connections today, which typically offer speeds of around 2 megabits per second.
In the United States, Sprint Nextel Corp. has begun rolling out a nationwide WiMax network, starting in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, DC.
Other countries, including Britain and Sweden, will begin auctioning licenses for the 2500-2690 MHz radio frequency used by 3G in the coming months.
Analysts say the decision to adopt WiMax as a global standard for 3G communications is likely to spur development of the technology, attract investors and eventually drive down hardware costs.
Early promoters of WiMax such as Intel and Samsung, but also Illinois-based Motorola Inc. and Finland's Nokia Corp., stand to gain from the decision, said Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis, a British technology advisory firm.
"The other potential winners in this are large telecoms companies, or other well-funded communications companies which don't have spectrum at the moment," he said.
Companies such as Britain's BT Group PLC would be well-placed to exploit the long range and high-bandwidth offered by WiMax technology to roll out wireless broadband services, both in cities and in rural areas, where laying fixed-line connections is regarded as too costly, he said.
Once certain interference problems have been resolved, WiMax could become as ubiquitous as mobile phones and conventional broadband, Bubley said.
"The real kick comes between two and five years from now," he said, when consumers will start seeing the first mobile phone-style devices using WiMax come on the market.