Fixed wireless is coming to your remote offices

Although the industry is young and the technology often incompatible, fixed wireless will soon play a last-mile role in your support of teleworkers and branch offices.

At least that is what some of the biggest players were saying at the Wireless Communications Association’s event in Boston recently, the 14th annual gathering of fixed- wireless equipment vendors and service providers.

Cameron Rejali, Sprint Corp. vice-president of wireless products and operations, says his company has installed fixed wireless in 14 markets, including Chicago, Phoenix and Houston, and will launch a VPN telecommuter product within a month.

While AT&T Corp. doesn’t have a similar package on the drawing board, Michael Keith, CEO of AT&T Fixed Wireless Service, is just as bullish on fixed wireless. Both agree that fixed wireless’s greatest potential is in reaching consumers and small businesses or branch offices.

Sprint has a head start on AT&T, but the company’s service currently only supports data and requires buildings to be within sight of a tower, shortcomings the company promises to overcome.

AT&T is starting with a non-line-of-sight technology that supports voice and data. That means it will be easier to deploy and the service packages will be more appealing right off the bat.

Keith says voice/data bundles are the killer app. The company’s service – 128K up and 600-700K down – comes with 10 IP addresses, four of which can be used to support 16K packetized voice lines while the rest are used for data devices.

AT&T’s CPE comes with a built-in phone-line network. Install the antenna to an outside wall, connect it to a VCR-sized gizmo inside, and then any PC outfitted with a HomePNA network interface can connect to the wireless link by plugging it into a phone jack.

Costs for services vary. AT&T says US$80 per month buys two voice lines and high-speed data. Sprint’s data-only consumer service costs about US$45 per month, but the business flavour jumps up to US$150 to US$200 per month because it includes multiple e-mail accounts, a Web page and other goodies.

The upshot: Fixed wireless is emerging as a viable alternative to DSL and cable modems. Stay tuned.

Dix is Editor in Chief of Network World (U.S.). He can be reached at [email protected].

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