Providers of wireless-broadband services in the
local-multipoint-distribution-service and other high-frequency tiers are turning to new
technologies and even wireline options in an effort to expand coverage in the business
market and extend services into the residential sector.
Some companies operating at the 24-gigahertz, 28-GHz,
31-GHz and 38-GHz spectrum tiers see an opportunity to target multifamily dwelling units
as their costs of providing services continue to fall.
And other operators are going even further, noting that
ignoring residential demand for integrated data and voice services could weaken their
competitive positions in a business market where companies want home access, as well as
office access, to services for their workers.
"Because we depend on technology that's line-of-sight,
I don't think you can ever look at 24 GHz and say that in heavily wooded areas and the
like, it will be an answer for residential and other types of customers," Teligent
Inc. vice president for law and regulatory affairs David Turetsky said. "But I think
[wireless broadband] will be the answer for multifamily residential customers -- or an
answer -- and I think that's not as far off as people think."
In fact, Turetsky added, the potential of companies like
Teligent to offer services to multiple-dwelling units is an argument for federal action to
ensure that such companies can gain access to building wiring and equipment rooms.
"The more buildings we can get our antennas on and our
equipment into now, the quicker costs will come down," he said. "So this
building-access issue is turning out to be an important issue in setting the pace for
residential competition from fixed wireless."
Going beyond MDUs, the single-family residential market --
starting with employees of business customers -- is clearly on the minds of officials at
Nextlink Communications Inc., which recently became the largest holder of LMDS spectrum in
the United States.
However, for Nextlink, the goal isn't to reach the home
with wireless, but rather to deploy digital-subscriber-line facilities throughout the
country in a way that will cover important segments of the market not reached by its LMDS
"Having built our business -- starting with small and
medium-sized businesses, and now moving to larger businesses, as well -- we're in a
position to see what the real market needs are," Nextlink senior vice president for
external affairs Gerard Salemme said. "The key for us is to target those customers in
the residential market that best fit our customer profile."
Starting in the first half of next year, Nextlink will
introduce ADSL (asymmetric DSL) and SDSL (symmetric DSL) services through its own DSLAMs
(DSL-access multiplexers) and those of CLECs (competitive local-exchange carriers) it has
contracted with, including Rhythms NetConnections Inc. and Covad Communications Group
Inc., Nextlink vice president for corporate communications Todd Wolfenbarger said.
"We currently have 180 of our own colocation sites [at
telco central offices], and we will have about 400 by the end of next year," he
Nextlink is currently delivering HDSL (high-speed DSL
designed for transmission of T-1 signals over standard copper lines) to businesses from
about one-half of its colocation sites, he added.
The company -- which has been using leased wireline
facilities as it builds out its own metro fiber and long-haul networks to serve a
nationwide customer base -- is now preparing to get LMDS services under way in tests of
wireless equipment from Ericsson Inc., SpectraPoint Wireless LLC, Wavtrace Inc. and
Digital Microwave Corp.
The selection of these vendors comes after more than one
year of testing at the carrier's research lab in Plano, Texas. It represents the product
foundation that it will launch starting at year's end, extending to a majority of the top
30 markets throughout 2000 assuming that all goes well in the testing, Wolfenbarger said.
Nextlink began field tests of the equipment in Los Angeles,
and it plans to introduce services there and in Dallas commercially sometime in the fourth
While Nextlink is trailing its chief wireless-broadband
competitors -- Teligent and WinStar Communications Inc. -- in getting the new
point-to-multipoint systems under way, it's still very much at the cutting edge of the
Teligent -- which leads WinStar in PMP implementation --
plans to have wireless services under way in 40 markets by year's end, with a mix of
point-to-point and PMP systems in operation, Turetsky said.
Because of the longer propagation distances that are
associated with lower frequency levels, Teligent's 24-GHz platform can cover an area of 31
square miles from a single transmitter, compared with about 20 square miles for LMDS at 28
GHz and 8 square miles at 38 GHz, he noted.
But Teligent -- with 300 megahertz to 400 MHz to work with
in any given territory -- has less bandwidth than its competitors, so some of the
disparity in coverage is compensated for at the higher frequencies.
Teligent believes the market for wireless broadband --
ranging from buildings needing the equivalent of only five lines of service up to
buildings requiring as many as 350 lines -- is so vast that the company and its
competitors will have no trouble succeeding against the higher-priced terrestrial options,
Despite Teligent's early launch of PMP systems, industry
authorities said it's only now that the two-way PMP platforms have matured to where the
capabilities are on par with the quality-of-service offerings available over wireline
Choosing to wait until such gear was available, WinStar has
been in test mode through all of 1999, and it is only now announcing commercial rollouts
of PMP services.
During the fourth quarter, the company will introduce those
services in Washington, D.C.; Phoenix; Oakland and San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; and Salt
Lake City, officials said.
While the company has a long-term, $2 billion financing and
supply agreement with Lucent Technologies, Lucent was not selected as the supplier of the
PMP gear for WinStar's 38-GHz and LMDS platforms, but it did agree to finance purchases
from the other vendors, officials noted.
The vendor agreements are with Siemens AG's Siemens
Information and Communication Networks unit -- which has teamed up with P-Com Inc. to
manufacture, deploy and install PMP equipment for WinStar -- and with Hughes Network
Systems for PMP equipment and related services, said David Ackerman, executive vice
president of WinStar's network-services group.
"The combination of our multiple PMP suppliers, our
detailed deployment plans and the use of Lucent financing puts us in a position to
aggressively roll out our PMP network across the country," Ackerman added.
While not indicating that it plans to target residential
customers or to use DSL to expand its coverage beyond the wireless nodes, WinStar is
planning to use DSL for in-building distribution, senior vice president for strategic
planning William Vogel said.
"We're in the process of putting DSLAMs into buildings
that we serve," Vogel added, noting that the short lengths of in-building wiring
support higher distribution rates to desktops from the rooftop antenna than would be
possible over long runs of DSL copper.
"We can easily deliver T-1 [1.54 megabits per second]
and above to the desktops of customers in the building," he said.