MWeb is the latest company to enter the WiMax fray, as it completes its trial network roll-out in Soweto. The trial also extends to other parts of Johannesburg and Cape Town, but these networks have not yet been completed.

MWeb was one of 11 local industry players to be awarded a test WiMax licence by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA). The licence expires in January 2008.

The company’s test agreement has allowed it to connect eight base stations, of which seven have already been erected – four in Johannesburg and three in Cape Town. It is also in the process of finalising arrangements to erect its eighth base station in Midrand.

According to Rudi Jansen, CEO of MWeb, the company has invested R13 million in its WiMax trial across the country.

The latest roll-out in Soweto saw 100 residents receiving free PCs with WiMax Internet access for the duration of the six-month trial. “If MWeb gets a commercial licence, the trial participants will have the option to continue their connectivity on a subscription basis,” Jansen says.

The Soweto participants were selected through a competition open to residents living within range of the Baragwanath Hospital base station, who provided a 100-word motivation on how the Internet would benefit them.

MWeb hopes to be awarded a commercial licence for WiMax when ICASA allocates the remaining spectrum later this year.

Expectations

Jansen says it is too early to speculate on how the network will operate, especially in terms of coverage for rural areas, should the company be allocated spectrum. “It will depend on the amount of spectrum allocated, as to how and where we will roll out WiMax.”

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says PC penetration in Soweto is still relatively low. However, he says this figure is growing. “Many people are not buying computers because of a lack of perceived benefit for the user, and WiMax could help.”

Soweto is a growing market with a lot of potential, he says. “However, at the current pricing structure of WiMax, the adoption will be slow.”

Other test licensees include Michelangelo Technologies, Multisource Telecomms, Verizon and Origin X.