Forget fiber optics - wireless is way to go for Internet access

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A few days ago, a friend told me a familiar tale. For weeks, he had been trying to get a high-speed Internet connection in his home. But he had met with nothing but bad customer service and the kind of delays one would expect in Antarctica not New England.

It's a song a lot of people are singing. But I'm here to tell you, don't give up. In the next year or two, these problems will disappear. Not because the big telecommunications companies and cable companies will have improved their services or fixed their substandard phone lines (don't hold your

breath). No, the new boom in high-speed access will happen because of wireless service.

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It is now possible for anyone in the United States and Canada to get high-speed wireless Internet access. It doesn't matter if you live in remote Montana or downtown Los Angeles. While there are several wireless distribution methods, three look promising.

MMDS: MMDS stands for multichannel, multipoint distribution service. It offers access speeds from 1 mbps (megabits per second, or a little less than a good T-1 line) up to 10 mbps (very, very fast). MMDS is already a proven technology - it's been used to deliver TV signals for almost 30 years. And it is being rolled out in a number of markets by Sprint and WorldCom. Sprint says it will have 13 markets by the end of the year; WorldCom plans to have 30, it says. MMDS is not out of the woods yet, however. It still costs twice as much as a fixed-wire DSL connection ($60 to $80 a month) and the industry lacks clear, open standards. That's one reason why several providers formed the Wireless DSL Consortium last year.

Millimeter Wave (MMW): According to Stan Bruederle of GartnerGroup/Dataquest, 95 percent of the 750,000 commercial buildings in the US can't be equipped for fiber-optic connections. That's why MMW will be of great interest to small-to-mid-size businesses that want fast connections without waiting for someone to lay all that fiber. MMW, which is a microwave point-to-point technology, has a concentrated radius of one mile, so it's not the solution for large communities. In most cases, a business will have a small antenna on top of its building that receives incoming data and sends outgoing data to a nearby base station, which in turn routes the signals to the Internet via fixed wires. Teligent and Winstar Communications both offer MMW.

Satellite: This service will bring you the Internet, regardless of where you live in the US or Canada. Companies like StarBand or DirecPC have satellites locked in orbit. You can have two-way access to the Internet at speeds of up to 500 kpbs (10 times as fast as the average dial-up modem). Sure, that's not as fast as some of the other wireless options. But if you live in, say, rural northern Arizona, it's a real boon. (Recently, Northern Arizona University and StarBand Communications collaborated to provide high-speed access to native-American reservations in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.)

The service is expensive - about $80 a month plus another $500 up front for the satellite modem, antennas, and such.

By the end of 2001, there really will be no need to deal with telcos or cable companies if you want high-speed Internet service. And that's reward enough if you ask me.

Tom Regan is the associate editor of csmonitor.com, the electronic edition of The Christian Science Monitor. You can e-mail him at csmbandwidth@aol.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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