BellSouth goes wireless for Katrina recovery

BellSouth Corp. is taking its wireless broadband beyond initial deployments and into the storm-ravaged streets of New Orleans.

The regional carrier, which lost nine central offices and suffered damage to 11 others when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, is offering a pre-WiMax wireless data service to small businesses in New Orleans that have lost their telecommunications service. The service can deliver as much as 1.5 Mbps downstream and costs $69.95 per month, according to a BellSouth statement.

BellSouth, based in Atlanta, currently offers a commercial pre-WiMax service in the university community of Athens, Georgia, and is operating a trial in Palatka, Florida. Now the technology is filling in while the company restores service in New Orleans.

WiMax is intended as a metropolitan-scale wireless technology with speeds over 1 Mbps and a longer range than Wi-Fi wireless LANs. The first products certified by the WiMax Forum are expected to become available by the end of the year. They will be able to provide non-line-of-sight service to stationary customer sites; a later version of WiMax is intended to support mobile access.

BellSouth's service in New Orleans uses a small non-line-of-sight modem that customers can plug into a PC or router, the carrier said. It does not require a phone line.

In general, in densely populated areas DSL (digital subscriber line) service is more economical than WiMax, delivering higher bandwidth at a lower price, BellSouth Chief Technology Officer Bill Smith said Monday at the Telecom '05 show in Las Vegas. The New Orleans offering, which became available last week, is an exception, he said.

BellSouth is exploring WiMax primarily as a way to bring broadband to hard-to-reach rural customers and in special markets. In Athens, the technology allows students to keep one service as they move between dormitories and apartments from year to year and suspend the service during summer breaks, Smith said.

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