Taiwan vets WiMax applications amid protest

Country is just one of several places to kick off WiMax licensing process

Thirteen companies have applied to bid for the right to build WiMax high-speed wireless Internet networks in Taiwan, an effort one group hopes to derail out of health concerns.

The agency responsible for vetting applications, the National Communications Commission, said nine companies will vie for licenses in northern Taiwan, while 10 companies are competing for licenses in the south. Taiwan plans to pass out three licenses in each zone, for a total of six WiMax licenses island-wide.

One group is not happy to see the auction process proceeding. Earlier this month, the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union petitioned the government to halt the WiMax licensing process until further health studies can be made on the impact of electromagnetic waves from cell phone and WiMax base stations. Their concern centers on the belief that the waves can cause cancer, but the group says it cannot prove such a link.

Taiwan is one of just a handful of places globally that has already started the process of offering WiMax licenses. It's part of the island's M Taiwan initiative, to establish WiMax as a way for people to access the Internet, even in the most remote areas of the island. Part of the idea is also to boost Taiwanese companies with domestic orders for WiMax gear, by promoting the technology.

The island's three largest mobile phone service providers have all applied for WiMax licenses. Chunghwa Telecom Co. Ltd., the biggest phone company in Taiwan, applied to bid for licenses in both the north and south of Taiwan, as did Far Eastone Telecom Co. Ltd. and a subsidiary of Taiwan Mobile Co. Ltd.

WiMax base stations can send broadband Internet signals to far greater distances than the Wi-Fi technology used to deliver wireless Internet access in coffee shops and airports. Although estimates vary on how far WiMax signals can go, in a densely populated place such as Taiwan, the distance should be between 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) and 4 km.