AT&T Corp. is preparing a massive rollout of its
"Project Angel" wireless technology next year, joining what promises to be a
wide-scale over-the-air assault against the entrenched forces in local broadband
"We always said we would be ready for commercial
deployment [of Project Angel technology] by sometime in 2000, and that is still the
case," AT&T Wireless Services spokesman Kenneth Woo said.
Reports from the field indicated that AT&T has begun
contracting for new transmitter sites and engineering services as it continues to refine
its marketing plans via a trial under way in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, since early June.
"It's too soon to say how [the trial] results
will affect our strategy, but we're prepared to move ahead," Woo said.
Meanwhile, MCI WorldCom Inc., Sprint Communications Co., U
S West and several smaller firms also plan to launch new wireless services distinct from
traditional mobile services and new high-frequency broadband services targeted to
businesses at the LMDS (local multipoint distribution service) and other spectrum tiers.
Operating at lower-frequency tiers, these new services will
be able to penetrate foliage and, in some cases, walls to deliver interactive voice and
data services to homes and businesses.
For example, MCI plans to use newly acquired MMDS
(multichannel multipoint distribution service) licenses to deliver two-way data and
telecommunications services. MCI also cut a deal with Metricom Inc., of which it owns 37
percent, to resell Metricom's new 128-kilobit-per-second portable data service over a
portion of unlicensed spectrum at the 900-megahertz tier.
U S West and wireless-broadband supplier Adaptive Broadband
Corp. are preparing a Denver-area trial that sources said is aimed at determining whether
unlicensed spectrum at the 5-gigahertz level can be used to provide high-speed-data
services outside of digital-subscriber-line areas.
As usual, AT&T refused to discuss technical details of
the proprietary system that it intends to use to provide multiple-line voice and
high-speed-data services over fixed-wireless links using existing cellular and PCS
(personal-communications services) spectrum allocations.
But sources contracting or bidding on contracts for various
aspects of the project said AT&T believes it has cost-effectively turned the little
piece of spectrum it has left over from the mobile applications into a pipe wide enough to
deliver a four-line voice and high-speed-data service.
"AT&T is definitely proceeding with site
acquisition and field preparations," said Chuck Sackley, senior vice president for
sales and marketing at Wireless Facilities Inc., which supplies engineering and
construction services to wireless operators. "They've already selected some
contractors, and we're talking with them in hopes of being chosen, as well," he
One of the selected contractors is American Tower Corp.,
which has also been chosen to supply transmitter towers for the project. "We
haven't started the work yet," American Tower executive vice president Steven
Moskowitz said, because "things haven't been completely consummated."
But Moskowitz confirmed that his company and others have
turnkey contracts covering RF engineering, site construction and other requirements.
"AT&T is targeting major markets where they don't have cable," he said.
Moskowitz also confirmed that, as previously reported,
AT&T plans to use spectrum at the 38-GHz tier it acquired with Teleport Communications
Group for the Project Angel build-out.
Propagation limitations at 38 GHz make that frequency
unsuitable for delivering signals to end-users in homes, but the spectrum could be a
backbone link between central base stations and microcells.
This two-tiered wireless approach would allow microcells to
be close to end-users, lowering the number of people contending for the limited bandwidth
available from any one microcell. The high-frequency link back to tower-mounted
transmitters avoids using costly fiber.
AT&T officials declined to discuss the 38-GHz tier or
other architectural aspects of the plan. Moskowitz said he wasn't sure how the 38-GHz
element would be used, but he indicated that it would be key to residential offerings.
Metricom -- which has a limited amount of spectrum to use
-- has a two-tiered wireless approach to getting signals close to end-users, according to
senior vice president of marketing and sales John Wernke.
Using frequency-hopping code-division multiple-access radio
technology, Metricom delivers saturation coverage indoors and outdoors to stationary and
mobile users, Wernke said. The access link to the modem antennas is delivered over a thin
slice of unlicensed spectrum (902 MHz to 928 MHz) via microcell radios on utility poles.
These radios are interconnected via wireless links
operating at other frequency tiers to base stations known as "Wireline Access
Points," which are linked to data switches via wireline backbone networks.
Through complex, software-based interactions, the system
determines which microcell radios within signal reach would provide the best service. This
allows the system to handle a fairly high market penetration, while maintaining guaranteed
data rates, Wernke said.
"The system sounds complicated, but we've seen it
in action, and it works," said Tom DiMatteo, business-area manager for General
Dynamics Worldwide Telecommunication Systems, the wireless engineering and construction
unit of General Dynamics Corp.
GDWTS helped Metricom with technical tests in the San
Francisco area earlier this year. "We weren't operating over a fully constructed
network, but there's no reason to believe the system isn't scalable,"
Metricom has been securing rights of way to use light poles
to mount shoebox-sized microcells, and it should have no trouble meeting its ambitious
construction schedule, DiMatteo added.
Metricom intends to operate commercially in New York;
Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Dallas; Houston; Phoenix; Los Angeles;
San Diego; San Francisco; and Seattle by mid-2000, with more than 40 markets targeted for
mid-2001, Wernke said.
MCI is the first to sign on as a retail provider of the
"Ricochet" service that Metricom intends to wholesale, he added.
While all areas of a given metro region won't be
covered in the initial build-out, the coverage will be sufficient to deliver service to
targeted users, including Fortune 1000 employees and mobile professionals, Wernke said.
"We haven't decided on pricing, but we expect the service to be offered at a
small premium over some of the DSL options," he added.