AT&T exec calls WiMax '4G wireless technology'; commercial trial to begin in May

Two corporate customers in New Jersey will have broadband services delivered by AT&T Corp. using WiMax technology on a commercial trial basis beginning the first week of May, with plans for full deployment in 2006.

These are trend-setting contracts, according to Hossein Eslambolchi, AT&T's chief technology officer and chief information officer.

"WiMax will take over the 3G networks and become the 4G wireless technology," he said.

A "fairly large retail corporation with distribution across the U.S." and another corporation in Middletown, New Jersey, will be AT&T's first commercial trials for the emerging last mile wireless broadband access technology.

"We have been testing voice over Internet Protocol services, video, instant messaging and gaming over IP for these customers," Eslambolchi said, not disclosing the companies.

WiMax is a popular term for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.'s (IEEE) 802.16 standard using the 700MHz to 66GHz frequency band delivering 2 Mbps (bits per second) to 6 Mbps to each customer within the network's cell radius deployment of up to 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) with the line of sight interrupted. If the line of sight is uninterrupted, the speed can be higher and the radius larger.

The technology is often described both as a competitor and a complement to 3G (third-generation) and wired broadband but Eslambolchi, responsible for AT&T's strategic technology direction, considers WiMax superior to 3G -- and in many ways a substitute for wired broadband.

WiMax combines the benefits that other wireless networking technologies offer individually, addressing the needs of office, home and mobile users, he said.

In addition to the advantages in converging mobility, portability and fixed Internet access, the cost factor is also important for Eslambochi.

"We pay US$8.5 billion per year to local exchange carriers to lease capacity to business customers and consumers," said Eslambochi. "With only 7,000 business buildings in the U.S. wired by ourselves, out of 270,000, the local access is crucial -- a battle ground. WiMax becomes the niche play which can lower our cost."

Eslambochi, who serves on the IEEE editorial board of the Journal of Network and Systems Management, notes that there is no world standard for wireless broadband technology except the wireless local area network standard Wi-Fi.

"I personally think that WiMax will end up (being) a worldwide standard," he said

The live customer trial in Middletown will be carried out using Intel Corp. hardware. Intel already announced its participation in WiMax network deployment with carriers in Latin America, China and the U.S., and is developing a wireless broadband chip for WiMax products.

AT&T will continue its live U.S. customer trial at two other locations in the fourth quarter of this year, according to Eslambochi.

The experimental licenses from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for the AT&T trials covers 2GHz to 3GHz.

AT&T launched its first commercial 3G service in the U.S. last year.

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