Broadband2Wireless readies DSL alternative

By Toni Kistner, Network World |  Networking

DSL got you down? Here's something to cheer you up. In the wake of all the misery -- first the DSL rollout horror stories and now the layoffs and company closures -- a small Boston company called Broadband2Wireless has been quietly dotting metropolitan cityscapes with antennas for its fixed and mobile broadband service, set to debut the first week of March.

Aimed primarily at homes and small businesses, the service operates in the 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz frequencies. At the outset, it promises to deliver a minimum bandwidth of 300K bit/sec and a maximum of 3M bit/sec. The service is currently beta-testing in 11 cities (primarily in the East, Texas and Colorado) and will be available in 19 cities by launch. The company plans to offer services to individuals off its Web site, and is partnering with ISPs like Earthlink to distribute service. Residential pricing is expected to be about $45 a month, and hardware is included, competitive with DSL and cable competitors.

This is how it works: Broadband2Wireless installs "hub sites" or large antenna arrays atop tall buildings and towers that blanket a three-mile radius, and many more smaller antennas or "microcells" are installed on shorter buildings every tenth of a mile. These microcells send signal to street level and penetrate windows and walls, and don't require line of sight. When you order service, the company overnights you an antenna, a small box (2-by-3 inches) that connects to your computers via Ethernet, and software. In most cases, you won't need an external antenna or internal cabling, according to CEO Paul Adams. You can connect it to a residential gateway to share signal over a home network, and treat it just as you would a DSL or cable modem.

The service is great for customers who've been unable to get traditional broadband service, like Back Bay and Beacon Hill in Boston, notes Adams. "That's a tier one city with pretty high density, and no DSL. We have lots of beta-test customers there," he says. But in markets like New York City, Adams will be competing with established broadband providers.

"The big question is can we get people to convert from cable modem to our service? Can we get people who waited through the DSL nightmare to sign on for our service?" Adams asks.

No doubt about it. For one, the service is mobile. While initially, the coverage footprint might not span across or downtown, but over the coming months, the company will blanket metropolitan areas and continue adding cities, making it an invaluable tool for business travel.

What's more, when the 5.8GHz service is up and running by year's end according to Adams, customers can expect speeds of up to 54M bit/sec, plenty of pipe for videoconferencing, streaming multimedia and other yet to be thought-up applications.

The URL is www.bb2w.com, but you won't find much up theree till early March. City dwellers: Bookmark it anyway, and make a note on the calendar.

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