The wireless broadband internet wave is gathering momentum with the second local service provider in a month announcing plans to test the emerging WiMax global standard.

Auckland-based National Communications is trialling its WiMax wireless internet access service, called Airthernet, in January with small and medium-sized business customers. Natcom plans to test the service for three months through two sites and 10 customers.

The Airthernet trial will offer customers high-speed internet access of between 2 to 10 megabits a second, unlimited data usage and provide voice, video and browsing services.

Chief executive Frayne Cooke says if all goes well, Natcom will expand the trial to more sites and offer a commercial service shortly thereafter. The company is targeting business customers because the residential market is already well served through Telecom's wired DSL offerings.. "It's the business customers that are being shafted at the moment, so that's who we want to serve," Cooke said.

The wireless, microwave-based WiMax technology is emerging as a cheap and fast alternative to fixed, copper-line DSL networks, such as the one operated here by Telecom. Many local industry observers see WiMax as circumventing Telecom's network and providing true competition to its wired-internet monopoly.

Natcom played down that hope and said it was not looking to compete with Telecom but, Cooke added, WiMax would be a good way for internet providers to eliminate problems such as outages or line interference.

"It's not necessarily the best way to get around Telecom, it's the best way to get some sort of assurance with regards to the quality of service."

Natcom joins CallPlus in trialling WiMax. The nation's number three telco said several weeks ago it was testing the wireless technology, but declined to elaborate.

Wellington-based New Zealand Wireless also plans to begin tests in January, but has not yet finalised details. Managing director Chris Aspros says the company intends to test three sites over 60 days in Wellington in the middle of the month.

Network provider BCL is also planning WiMax tests, although a spokesman said no firm date had been set.

Telecom also tossed its hat into the WiMax ring with a purchase of microwave spectrum from Counties Power, but has not yet announced any WiMax plans.


Wired up

* Internet service provider National Communications is trialling WiMax wireless access in Auckland in January. CallPlus is also testing the service, and NZ Wireless and BCL have plans to do so.

* WiMax is a wireless broadband internet standard that boasts high speeds at ranges of up to 10km to 70km. It is being touted as a cheap alternative to fixed DSL networks that operate over copper wire.

* Thirteen carriers worldwide have deployed networks.