TWENTY YEARS AGO, most households managed to get by with a single phone, either fixed to the kitchen wall or installed in the family room. But that was before the telecommunications revolution happened. First came the cordless phone, which allowed the user to roam a short distance from base, and then the fax machine which triggered the demand for multiple lines in a home. Mobile devices ushered in the next great wave of change. As quality and network coverage improved, sales soared to the point where cellphone became a modern-day necessity in cities such as Hong Kong. In theory, almost everyone was reachable at any time, no matter where they were. The relatively short history of internet connectivity has followed a similar pattern. It started with the ear-screeching dial-up modem, but speed and capacity steadily improved. Wireless modems then made it possible for the user to browse the internet on a laptop without a cable connection. But even so, industry experts say there is still much to be done. Brandon Amber, Asia-Pacific director of TeleCIS Wireless, said: 'You were still stuck in one place,' adding that the further a user got from the wireless modem, the weaker the signal became. However, WiMAX (worldwide interoperability for microwave access), or its Korean equivalent WiBro (wireless broadband), has overcome that problem. As a high-speed, standards-based wireless technology, it promises to deliver the next level of connectivity. That means getting a reliable internet connection no longer depends on a cable link or a 'hot spot' where wireless reception is good. WiMAX will be used to establish metropolitan area networks but will also have applications in areas without existing cable or telephone networks. Mobile users will be able to get internet access beyond the confines of their desk or office, and a range of new possibilities will open up. For example, government departments are already looking into using WiMAX for traffic control and street surveillance, and creating cities that run with wireless technology. With speeds as fast as 75 megabits per second and an operational range of 30 miles, WiMAX has captured the imagination of many people. New World Telecom is planning to bid for one of the six broadband wireless access (BWA) permits to be auctioned next year. Initially, the company will spend up to $1 billion to build a network of 500 base stations covering 13 districts, including Tsim Sha Tsui, Causeway Bay and Kwai Chung, to service 3.36 million residents. The second phase will involve building 1,000 stations across the region within two years of obtaining the licence. A WiMAX test run done last month connected an internet phone call with a video conference, with reported speeds of 30 megabits per second. 'Broadband goes with you everywhere,' said Paul Sergeant, director of alternative wireless access networks marketing for Motorola, which will enter the market with a proprietary product known as Canopy. This is already being used by the Boston Police and will be developed into a WiMAX product. It should be commercially available by the middle of this year - a year ahead of previous industry predictions. Initially, products will be aimed at network service providers and businesses rather than individual consumers. According to Alan Wong, Manpower's IT recruitment specialist, the new technology would not necessarily lead to a flood of job opportunities. 'Most of the growth is in sales and marketing for account and corporate sales managers,' he said. 'At the consumer level, not much is happening, but there is movement on the enterprise level in the area of corporate solutions.' The recent mergers and acquisitions in the telecoms industry mean that consolidation is still taking place. There are likely to be further redundancies, particularly in back-office secretarial positions, customer support and some IT roles, according to Mr Wong. Salaries generally remained stable last year and are forecast to change little this year. The exception is sales, where some individuals may get an 8 per cent to 10 per cent increase. However, as Hong Kong adapts to wireless services, there will be many more opportunities for content and application providers. 'That is where you will see the most hiring,' Mr Wong said. Ultimately, the success of WiMAX will depend on its affordability, and operators are still considering various pricing models for providing the technology and service. The greatest demand will almost certainly be in cities that are looking for the latest and fastest methods of transmitting data. As it happened with the mobile phone, Hong Kong and the countries in Southeast Asia are likely to lead the way and may have a significant influence on how the technology spreads in other parts of the world.