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UK to get first city with WiMax coverage

A city known for its concrete cows is set to become the first UK town to boast a high-speed WiMax wireless broadband network.
/ Source: Reuters

A British city known for its concrete cows is set to become one of the most technologically advanced in Britain after it said it would to be the first UK town to boast a high-speed WiMax wireless broadband network.

Telecoms firm Pipex, in a joint venture with chip maker Intel, is to blanket parts of Milton Keynes with WiMax, a medium-range sibling of the popular Wi-Fi technology covering kilometers rather than meters.  Both use radio frequency rather than conventional wires to beam the Internet.

A source close to Pipex told Reuters the company would announce the launch of its plans in around four weeks.

Steven Jewell, head of IT for Milton Keynes, said WiMax would be rolled out across the city bit by bit.  "Milton Keynes will be probably the first place for a major proving roll-out of WiMax in the UK," Jewell told Reuters.

"Signals will be sent out into various parts of Milton Keynes -- it won't be the whole of Milton Keynes to start with."

Milton Keynes is famed in Britain for the black and white concrete cow statues which planners added when building the town in the 1970s.

For those looking to get on the Internet on the move, WiMax is seen as one of the main alternatives to the 3G networks for which mobile operators across Europe paid more than 100 billion euros ($128 billion) combined some six years ago.

U.S. firm Airspan Networks, the company which is testing WiMax for Pipex, is to provide the base stations for the Pipex-funded project.

"There is inward investment by Pipex on this occasion to pay for the base stations," said Jewell.

Network plans
Pipex has said it plans to roll out WiMax in eight UK cities by 2008, led by networks in London and Manchester. It has declined to say how much the total project is expected to cost.

Roughly 95 kilometers north west of London, Milton Keynes lags behind most UK cities in terms of high-speed Internet access following decisions made during its rapid expansion in the 1980s to lay lower-quality aluminum cables rather than copper ones.

WiMax is seen as a way around the problem, giving its 220,000 inhabitants broadband access without relying on reluctant telecoms firms to fund the necessary cable upgrades.

Many mobile firms, still hurting after having to write off their huge 3G costs, are attempting to thwart WiMax in the hope of forcing people to use their 3G services so they can claw back some of their investment.

Earlier this month U.S. firm Sprint Nextel Corp. became the first major operator to put its money behind WiMax, committing to spend $3 billion to build a network after Motorola, Samsung Electronics and Intel agreed to develop WiMax based phones, devices and chips.

Samsung said it would embed WiMax in everything from TVs and MP3 players to camcorders in 2008, while Motorola said it would put the technology in its TV set-top boxes and phone handsets.