High-speed wireless rollouts begin in US next month

Next month, the Hyatt Regency hotel on the island of Maui, in Hawaii, will start offering guests mobile wireless service that blazes along at 256Kbit/s, or four to five times the speed of next-generation high-speed data services provided by US cellular carriers.

          Next month, the Hyatt Regency hotel on the island of Maui, in Hawaii, will start offering guests mobile wireless service that blazes along at 256Kbit/s, or four to five times the speed of next-generation high-speed data services provided by US cellular carriers.

          Gary Bulson, director of engineering at the Hyatt Regency Maui, says capital costs for the new service are only $US10,000 -- the price of 25 pocket-size modems that tap into the high-speed service provided by Maui SkyFiber in Kihei, Maui.

          Steve Berkoff, managing director at Maui SkyFiber, says his system -- which will eventually blanket the island of Maui -- has a raw throughput of 3M it/s, though he plans to limit it to 1.2Mbit/s, "because we don't have demand for that kind of speed on Maui."

          Berkoff intends to use the system to provide both mobile and fixed wireless service on Maui, with prices ranging from $US12.95 per day for hotel guests using the mobile service to $US349.95 per month for a 768K fixed service to enterprise customers, a rate he says favorably compares to cable modem or Digital Subscriber Line rates on the island.

          Maui SkyFiber offers this service, based on the international Universal Mobile Telecommunications standard, over a licensed system operating in the 2.5-2.6 GHz Multi-channel Multi-Point Distribution service frequency band. That band was designated by the Federal Communications Commission for fixed wireless operation, delivering either video or data.

          Berkoff says the key to the speed and mobility of his operation is technology developed by IP Wireless in San Bruno, California, that takes advantage of multipath signals. Such signals are usually rejected by ordinary radio receivers, which zero in on a direct signal.

          But multipath signals are the Holy Grail of radio frequency engineering, according to Chris Gilbert, CEO of IP Wireless. His company has developed patented software that harnesses the power of the multipath signals to provide a quantum increase in throughput.

          Berkoff says when he started to investigate the IP Wireless technology, he approached it with skepticism, wondering "if it was smoke and mirrors." Not only does the technology work, Berkoff says, but also at far lower capital costs than so-called third-generation cellular wireless systems such as those offered by Nokia in Espoo, Finland.

          Berkoff estimated his capital costs per cell at $US100,000, as opposed to $US250,000 per cell for similar equipment from a vendor such as Nokia.

          Joe Brooks, vice president of sales and market development at the Broadband Solutions division of financially troubled WorldCom, says his company has become enough of a believer in the IP Wireless technology to deploy it on its MMDS system in Memphis. Commercial service is slated to start next month.

          "I have not seen anything like" IPWireless technology, Brooks said. He believes the ability to offer both fixed and mobile services could be a real plus for WorldCom, which spent $1 billion for its nationwide MMDS licenses in the late 1990s. Since the IP Wireless modem is easy for a customer to install, Brooks said it would save the company the cost associated with sending out an installation technician.

          Teewinot Wireless Data in Missoula, Montana, has also embraced the IP Wireless technology. It kicked off commercial service last month. Gene Twiner, Teewinot's CEO, says he looked at five different hardware suppliers and settled on IP Wireless because "I have not seen anything out there like this that is truly affordable." Lindsay Schroth, an analyst at The Yankee Group of Boston, called the IP Wireless technology "truly incredible," noting that it provides suppliers and customers with a high-speed fixed or portable service in one package.

          The Hyatt Regency's Bulson says he really doesn't care as much about the underlying technology as about finding a low-cost system that allows his customers to surf whether they're in their room, on the beach or having a cup of coffee in the island's main town of Lahina.

          Though it may seem a waste of time to travel to Maui to surf the internet, Bulson says the Hyatt Regency has consistent requests from guests for in-room, high-speed internet access.

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