Amsterdam switches on Europe's first mobile WiMax network

Dutch broadband provider Worldmax demonstrates what it calls Europe's first mobile WiMax network

Dutch broadband start-up Worldmax on Tuesday demonstrated what it said is Europe's first mobile WiMax network, built by Alcatel-Lucent over the past five months and set to go fully online at the end of this summer.

The network is the first in Europe to use the 802.16e mobile WiMax standard, designed to offer roving broadband wireless connections both indoors and outdoors, and destined for devices such as laptops, smart phones and PDAs, according to Worldmax.

Previous networks have used earlier WiMax standards designed primarily as wireless replacements for conventional fixed broadband networks.

The initial version of the Aerea service, demonstrated at the WiMax Forum Global Congress, covers only Amsterdam's city center, and is currently a "light" edition offering a taste of the full service but without all features online, Worldmax said.

The company plans national expansion over the coming years. The demonstration included a live video feed relayed from three-wheeled taxis moving around the city.

Worldmax, a privately-owned start-up with Intel as one of its investors, is aiming for a broad demographic, including both mobile professionals and groups such as teenagers who currently cannot afford mobile broadband.

The company said it would need about 3,000 sites to cover all of the Netherlands, an expansion project which will cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

To turn a profit, the company said it would need to grow to become one of the bigger Dutch players, competing against operators such as KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile.

To reach the mass market, Worldmax is charging about US$31 per month for laptops with unlimited data transfer. The company will offer both contract-oriented and pay-as-you-go subscription schemes.

In the U.K., WiMax services have been put back most recently by a delay to Ofcom's auction of 2.6GHz spectrum, following complaints by mobile operators.

Ofcom announced that the application date for the auction, originally expected to be in July, will not be until at least September, because of legal action by O2 and T-Mobile.

Some players have argued that any delay to the auction would delay the roll-out of WiMax in the U.K. until mobile network operators are ready to unleash their successor to 3G, LTE, which some see as a direct competitor to WiMax.

Nortel said earlier this month that it would scrap its own WiMax plans in favor of spending the majority of its R&D budget on LTE, although it will continue to resell other companies' WiMax systems.