U.S. regulators have approved the first WiMax wireless broadband laptop PC card to be offered by Clearwire, and it should be available to users later this year, the company has announced.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved a WiMax laptop PC card that fits into a standard Type II laptop card slot and can be used with the Windows Vista and XP operating systems, Clearwire said in a statement. The card works on Clearwire's WiMax network, which has been built with Motorola wi4 Expedience wireless networking equipment.

Approval of the high performance WiMax card should propel the use of WiMax by broadening the potential base of customers, Clearwire said in a statement.

Laptop PC users were instrumental in increasing the popularity of Wi-Fi, which WiMax aims to replace with its speedier wireless Internet service and wider ranging access. Wi-Fi became popular because it freed people from sitting at home connected to the Internet by wire, and instead allowed them to sip coffee at Starbucks while reading emails wirelessly on their laptop PCs.

Clearwire expects the WiMax laptop PC cards to be available in the second half of this year. The company currently offers broadband wireless services in the U.S. and Europe.

Its subscribers rose to 206,000 as of the end of last year, from just 1,000 on September 30, 2004, it said when it filed to list on the Nasdaq Stock Market LLC in February. Its subscriber base has grown despite wireline alternatives for users, including broadband cable modems and DSL Internet service.

As of the end of last year, Clearwire services were available to 9.6 million people, including 8.6 million throughout the U.S., and one million in Brussels and Dublin, the company said.

WiMax base stations can send broadband Internet signals to far greater distances than Wi-Fi technology. Although estimates vary on how far WiMax signals can go, in densely populated cities, where users are not likely to be positioned within sight of access points, the distance should be between 2 km and 4 km.