Telecom looks to wireless for growth

Navini's Ripwave base station downloads at up to 3 Mbps and uploads at up to 1.5 Mbps.

'Wireless is the hottest growth sector in telecommunications today,' Matt Flanigan, president of the Telecommunications Industry Association, said at a recent trade show in Atlanta. 'That's not hard when everything else is ice-cold.'

More than 140 wireless vendors attended the SuperComm show, and they expect sales to grow about 8 percent this year to $123 billion.

So-called hot spots in public areas where mobile users can connect to wireless networks have become the most visible aspect of wireless networking. About 1,000 retail sites are being wired'or rather unwired'by T-Mobile USA Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., using IEEE 802.11 standards.

Verizon Communications Inc. plans to equip 300,000 pay phone booths for wireless access. Fast-food restaurants in Manhattan are bundling free Internet time with purchases on a network provided by Cometa Networks Inc. of San Francisco. Cometa is a joint venture of AT&T Corp., IBM Corp. and Intel Corp. Some hotels also provide hot spots for meetings and convention visitors.

Analysts have predicted the number of public hot spots worldwide will grow over the next four years from about 145,000 now to millions. But the analysts also have said the usage rate so far is too low to make the networks profitable.

Unless consumer enthusiasm catches up with vendor deployments, WiFi networking could go the way of the dot-com boom, said Daniel Sweeney, an analyst with Forward Concepts Co. of Tempe, Ariz.

Vendors meanwhile are introducing wider-area applications to extend wireless across campuses and even nationwide. Inside the office, EDS Corp. is introducing products to integrate wireless networking with desktop computers.

Wireless WANs

Government organizations such as the Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response and the Marine Corps are interested in easy-to-deploy wireless WANs. But wider-area technologies still are largely in the testing or early adoption stages.

'I would anticipate deployment by larger players later this year or early next year,' said Sai Subramanian, vice president of product management for wireless broadband equipment vendor Navini Networks Inc. of Richardson, Texas.

Navini makes what Subramanian called a 'logical step forward from WiFi. It's like a marriage of digital subscriber lines and cellular phones,' he said.

The technology lets PCs with wireless PC Card modems access tower-mounted transponders. Navini's Ripwave base station downloads at up to 3 Mbps and uploads at up to 1.5 Mbps. It has a range of 10 miles under good conditions, although Subramanian said, 'typically we talk about three to five miles coverage.'

Similar to cell phones

Versions of Ripwave operate in the licensed 2.5-GHz to 2.6-GHz range and in the unlicensed 2.4-GHz range. Coverage suffers from the same limitations as cellular phones, often failing inside buildings. DSL is more cost-efficient where the copper infrastructure is in good condition.

Several large U.S. carriers are evaluating Ripwave, Subramanian said, and there has been limited commercial deployment in Europe.

'We have a lot of municipalities looking at the unlicensed WAN product,' he said. 'The federal government would be a good market,' but the company has not approached many agencies.

Vivato Inc. of San Francisco adapted the 802.11 standards to wider coverage areas with so-called WiFi switches'128-element phased-array panels with electrically controlled individual antennas that extend access point range, usually measured in meters, up to 4 kilometers outdoors.

'The range is increased by antenna gain, not radio power,' marketing vice president Phil Belanger said. Each of the 128 antennas can be focused on a packet-by-packet basis to create narrow beams with greater range.

An indoor switch with two Gigabit Ethernet and two Fast Ethernet ports and a range of 300 meters lists for $8,995. A longer-range outdoor version costs $13,995. Both support 802.11b client interfaces; support for 802.11a and 802.11g standards will come in future releases.

Belanger said the Marine Corps is testing the equipment for rapid network deployment.

U.S. Robotics Corp. announced an addition to its Wireless Turbo products that it said will double 802.11g bandwidth. The new access point, PC Card, PCI adapter and router will use the Texas Instruments ACX100 chip set with Packet Binary Convolutional Code modulation to almost double top 802.11g rates from 54 Mbps to 100 Mbps, said Scott Vance, a U.S. Robotics network product manager. A similar 802.11b product set released by the Schaumburg, Ill., company last year claimed to double that standard's speed to 22 Mbps.

Because the 802.11g standard is backward-compatible with 802.11b, the faster Wireless Turbo products should be compatible with other products adhering to the b and g standards.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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