Sprint Rolls Out Wireless Home Nets

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Sprint Corp. has become one of the first broadband-network operators to embrace wireless home networking, choosing Lucent Technologies' "Orinoco" products for a forthcoming service offering in Phoenix.

This spring, Sprint rolled out fixed-wireless high-speed Internet service in Phoenix, based on MMDS (multichannel-multipoint distribution service) technology, and followed up in June with a deployment in Tucson, Ariz. Last week, Sprint announced it would roll out fixed-wireless service in areas of metropolitan Detroit and Colorado Springs.

Sprint has between 5,000 and 10,000 fixed-wireless subscribers in Phoenix and Tucson, said Evan Conway, vice president of marketing and product development for Sprint's broadband-wireless group.

Lucent's Orinoco wireless system, named after the river in Venezuela, is based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) "802.11b" wireless standard and consists of a gateway with an Ethernet jack that connects to a modem.

With a built-in radio with Network Address Translation (NAT) Internet standard support, the unit communicates with computers outfitted with Orinoco personal-computer radio cards. The PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) Type II cards fit into the PCMCIA slots of notebook computers or into the PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) slots of newer desktop computers. An ISA (Integrated Systems Architecture) card is available for older computers.

Apple Computer Inc. has also employed the technology in its new class of computers, relying on a networking system called "AirPort."

The 802.11b Orinoco system is capable of throughputs of 11 megabits per second (Mbps) and has a range of 1,200 feet, although bandwidth decreases as a user moves away from the gateway. For example, the throughput at 1,200 feet is about 1 Mbs, according to Lucent spokesman Mark Shapiro.

Conway said the service would be marketed to both home and business users as part of a portfolio of services Sprint will offer fixed-wireless subscribers. That portfolio could include wireline-networking options, such as those based on home phone-line or power-line technologies. He added that the 802.11b technology "works well with wireless

Internet access and becomes part of a mobile high-speed Internet service," although it's more expensive than existing wireline networking.

Though pricing is still being worked out, Conway said the hardware to outfit one computer for wireless Internet connections will be under $500. Additional computer connections will run for about $99.

Sprint's fixed-wireless technology uses a stationary, 13.5-inch-by-13.5-inch, diamond-shaped digital transceiver at the home or business. It is then pointed towards a radio transmission tower that can send and receive data to subs as far as 35 miles away.

The cost of basic Internet service is $39.95 per month for home use and $89.95 per month for businesses, with a one-time equipment charge for the transceiver and modem based on the length of the customer agreement. For example, a one-year agreement would include a $199 equipment charge and a two-year deal would cost $99 for the gear.

Citing the maturity of the 802.11b specification, Conway said, "we really believe this is going to be a self-install model."

Conway said Sprint will introduce several other services as part of a broader fixed-wireless Internet-access package, including Web hosting, firewalls, broadband content and virtual-private networking. He said Sprint and a large, unnamed company are now conducting a VPN telecommuting trial in Phoenix involving 50 homes. Conway expects the VPN service to be available in the first quarter of next year.

With a large system in Phoenix, Cox Communications Inc. has between 40,000 and 45,000 Cox@Home subscribers, but is not yet considering a home networking service, choosing instead to concentrate on its digital video, video-on-demand, Internet and voice services, company spokeswoman Kelly Grysho said.

"We think [home networking] has a lot of potential and it's something we may want to pursue in the future," Grysho said.

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