MCI WorldCom Inc. has found a way to get wireless-broadband
services up and running without waiting for the government to issue two-way MMDS licenses,
allowing the carrier to both test the technology and to refine its market plan for planned
rollouts of the high-capacity systems later this year.
"As we test and build out our [multichannel multipoint
distribution service] platform in larger cities, our service-market trials will be hosted
in smaller cities where we have existing wireless assets," MCI WorldCom Wireless
Solutions president John Stupka said. "By market-testing now, we'll be able to
offer our customers in certain markets a competitive package of broadband services by the
end of the year."
To accomplish its interim goals, the carrier is using the
small slice of spectrum it holds in the Wireless Communications Service band to offer
two-way high-speed fixed services in market trials now under way in Jackson, Miss.; Baton
Rouge, La.; and Memphis, Tenn.
Stupka said the company is offering two versions of the
service -- one operating at a scalable range of digital-subscriber-line speeds for
business customers, and the other at 310 kilobits per second for residences at a monthly
rate of $39.95.
Because WCS operates at 2.3 gigahertz -- sandwiched between
the frequencies used by MMDS at 2.1 GHz and 2.5 GHz to 2.7 GHz -- the company is able to
get a feel for operations at the MMDS frequencies while it awaits long-delayed two-way
licenses. That process at the Federal Communications Commission is now expected to
conclude this summer.
"We're using the current-generation platform
supplied by Hybrid Networks [Inc.], but soon, we'll begin testing some of the new
systems coming on the market," MCI spokesman Joe Paluska said.
These tests will get under way in the Boston and Dallas
areas in the second quarter, and they will run for two to three months, after which the
carrier will bring paying customers on for a market trial, Paluska said.
The company isn't saying which vendors' systems
will be chosen for these big-city trials. Paluska named ADC Telecommunications Inc., Cisco
Systems Inc., Motorola Inc., Hybrid, Nortel Networks and Lucent Technologies as vendors
with which MCI is evaluating platforms, Paluska said.
All of these companies are in the process of bringing to
market two-way wireless-broadband systems that are meant to overcome the limitations that,
so far, have held back deployment of point-to-multipoint networks in the United States,
for MMDS and for higher-frequency local multipoint distribution service.
The FCC has long been prepared to move ahead with two-way
licensing of MMDS operators, but it has held off pending operator determination that the
technology is ready.
The latest vendor to make its next-generation-system
intentions known is ADC, which said last week that it was introducing a two-way system
designed specifically for the MMDS and WCS frequencies.
The new "Axity" line is a carrier-class system
that takes advantage of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification standard to
meet market requirements for redundancy, low costs and scalability, said John Frederick,
vice president and general manager of the company's broadband-wireless-access unit.
The new ADC system -- operating in five field trials in the
United States, Canada and Latin America -- exploits the expanded feature sets some vendors
have implemented in their DOCSIS chip sets to provide the equalization and
mixed-modulation formats needed for wireless operations.
This means there are no great costs associated with moving
the platform to wireless, which results in an overall customer-premises-equipment cost of
under $500 in volume deployments, Frederick said.