WorldCom expands wireless Internet services –

WorldCom Inc. Tuesday announced an expansion of the coverage area of its 128K-bps (bits-per-second) wireless Internet service to four more U.S. cities. The service is based on Metricom Inc.'s Ricochet network.

The service, which offers 128K bps for downloads and 64K bps for uploads, is available immediately in Dallas, Houston, New York and Minneapolis in addition to the three original cities, Phoenix, San Diego and Atlanta, where the service has been offered since October, said Ralph Montfort, director of Internet access and security for WorldCom.

The original wireless Internet Ricochet service offered a transmission rate of 28K bps and was available only in Washington and San Francisco. Those two cities are on WorldCom's list of metropolitan areas where the higher bit-rate service will be rolled out later this year. WorldCom became a part owner of Metricom in July 1999, taking a 38 percent stake, and developed a list of 46 cities where it wanted to offer the higher bit-rate service, Montfort said. Plans call for the service to be available in 30 cities by the end of this year.

Like the old external Ricochet modems, the new ones attach to the back of a PC or handheld device with Velcro. The US$99 modem has a short antenna, plug into the USB (universal serial bus) or serial port connectors and use the Windows dial-up software to connect to the network, which consists of microcells positioned mostly on light pole tops.

In the cities where the service is available, the service is arriving well ahead of third-generation cellular services aimed at bringing full Internet service to cellular phones and other wireless devices, Montfort said. The network operates on the unlicensed 900MHz spectrum.

WorldCom also is bundling the service with other remote connectivity options, including DSL (digital subscriber line) and dial-up access service, allowing customers to change their access preference from wired to wireless depending on where they are and the devices they are using, Montfort said.

The service costs $79.95 per month, but WorldCom is offering a promotional monthly rate of $49.95 for the first three months of service for customers who sign up before March 31. An internal modem PCMCIA card will be available in a few weeks for $299, Montfort said.

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