Fixed Wireless Provides Network Alternative

Kansas City, Mo.-based Air Charter Team, an air passenger charter company for VIPs, relies on fixed wireless technology for fast access to the Internet to help in booking flights and downloading streaming media.

Air Charter is one of the many small and midsize companies, or branch offices of larger companies, that analysts said are picking fixed wireless technology over slower dial-up and other faster broadband Internet access methods. Fixed wireless is usually less expensive and easier to provide than T1, or fractional, connections, they said.

The charter carrier operates out of the old Kansas City airport near the center of the city, where cable modems and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service aren't available, said company President Joseph W. Tasler. Air Charter also wanted a less expensive connection than a T1 or faster connection but wanted greater speed than 56K bit/sec. dial-up or Integrated Service Digital Network, he said.

Air Charter Team's agents regularly use high-speed Internet connections for quick searches among hundreds of charter planes and pilots for their availability as well as to access streaming video to view various jet models and interiors, Tasler said.

A T1 line, with 1.54K bit/sec., of bandwidth, costs about $1,700 per month in the Kansas City area, compared with the $299 per month that Air Charter Team pays for fixed wireless, which provides more than 600K bit/sec.

The company contracts the service from Computer Training Corp. (CTC) in Independence, Mo., one of the many small fixed wireless providers in the nation. CTC offers T1-equivalent speeds for $1,000 per month.

"I'm very impressed with their service so far, and my only hope is that CTC doesn't oversubscribe and can't give us good service," Tasler said.

CTC officials said they use a proprietary fixed wireless technology that operates on 802.11b wireless technology usually seen in LANs with only 1,000 feet of wireless range.

But Air Charter Team has a small custom antenna on its roof that beams an amplified signal about 1.5 miles away to the rooftop of another CTC customer, which serves as a peer in the network, and that customer is then connected to a T1 line, CTC officials said.

Another CTC subscriber, Barber Financial Management Inc., also in Kansas City, uses fixed wireless to provide Internet access and e-mail capabilities for sensitive customer data, said Kent Barber, president of the firm.

"We've had no security concerns," he said.

Analysts said there are many varieties of fixed wireless, including Local Multipoint Distribution Service and Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service, which operate in radio spectrum licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. The biggest providers of such systems are Sprint Corp. and WorldCom Inc., analysts said.

CTC is offering its service in the unlicensed spectrum, as are many other providers, said Ronnie Galang, an analyst at Telechoice Inc. in Denver.

The biggest drawback of fixed wireless is its dependency on a line-of-sight connection from receivers and transmitters, which makes the signal susceptible to fog and rain, said Galang and Matt Davis, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston.

Galang said larger organization that are considering using fixed wireless might find it acceptable as a backup to another network. He recommended that if a company uses fixed wireless access, it should be purchased with a backup network based on another technology in case of outages or the demise of the service provider.

Tasler said his backup for fixed wireless is resorting to using phones without Internet access to make bookings, although he has never experienced a prolonged outage.

A market report by San Jose-based Frost & Sullivan in March said fixed wireless access services in the U.S. earned about $840 million last year and are expected to surpass $28 billion by 2007.

This story, "Fixed Wireless Provides Network Alternative" was originally published by Computerworld.

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