The launch of a pre-WiMAX service in Macedonia has driven the cost of broadband connectivity down by around 50 percent in a period of just nine months.

That was the assertion of Paul Budgen, the sales director for EMEA with Motorola, speaking at the Broadband World Forum in Paris today. Working with Macedonian ISP, the vendor has rolled out a country-wide network based on its MOTOwi4 Canopy wireless broadband platform. The ISP is now providing a 512 Kbps connection at a cost of around €12 per-month.

The incumbent, Macedonia Telecom, has been forced to lower the price of its DSL product in response, says Budgen, but he claims’s service maintains other advantages over the fixed-line alternative.

“Macedonia Telecom is using DSL to provide broadband connectivity, but I believe that they can only do it in bigger towns at the moment,” he says. “Our product has made it easier for people in rural locations to get access to the internet as well.”

Although he concedes that the subscriber devices – a radio unit mounted on the roof of a building – are more expensive than conventional DSL, he believes the overall expense of Canopy is far less than that of an alternative approach based on rolling out new fixed-line infrastructure or even local loop unbundling. “It can also be rolled out much quicker than a wired network,” he says.

Budgen claims advantages over other wireless solutions as well. “It’s working in unlicensed spectrum and very immune to interference,” he says. Other country-wide deployments, such as one in the Philippines, have already proven the effectiveness of Canopy, says Budgen.

Funding for the network was actually provided as part of a charitable initiative by the Chinese government and USAID, which responded to the Macedonian government’s plea for donors following the conclusion of the civil war in former Yugoslavia.

The principal objective of the government was to make Internet access available free of charge to schools and universities throughout Macedonia. now connects more than 500 schools worldwide at no cost to the establishments, although the business model could change slightly in future months.

“I believe fees will be introduced [for schools and universities], but they will be very low fees,” says Budgen. “The idea is that the commercial part of the business continues to subsidize that.”