WATPA: FW: Talks Weigh Big Project on Wireless Internet Link (NY Times)

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From: Norm Jacknis (norm@jacknis.com)
Date: Tue Jul 16 2002 - 23:44:54 EDT

Talks Weigh Big Project on Wireless Internet Link

July 16, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO, July 15 - Several leading computer and
telecommunications companies are discussing the joint
creation of a wireless data network that would make it
possible for users of hand-held and portable computers to
have access to the Internet at high speeds nationwide.

The Intel Corporation, I.B.M., AT&T Wireless and several
other wireless and Internet service providers including
Verizon Communications and Cingular are exploring the
creation of a company to deploy a network based on the
increasingly popular 802.11 wireless data standard, known
as WiFi, according to several people close to the talks.

The discussions, which are code-named Project Rainbow and
have been going on for the last eight months, envision a
nationwide service that would provide on-the-go
professionals and other Web surfers a unified way to reach
the Internet from a wide range of "hot spots" like airports
and other public places. It is not intended to supply
broadband connections to customers' homes, an executive
involved in the discussions said.

Intel has been a leading force in the project, according to
several industry executives. The company, which established
a communications division 18 months ago, has said publicly
that it plans to make 802.11 a standard capability of all
of its microprocessors offered for mobile computing
beginning next January.

The company has also said that it will bring the wireless
data standard to 20 million portable computers in 2003 and
an additional 40 million portable and desktop computers the
following year. In addition to Intel, I.B.M.'s Global
Services Division, which is one of the leaders in the
deployment of 802.11 wireless access points, would be
involved in establishing the actual wireless access points
and developing the technology to link the network together

Officials of Intel and I.B.M. refused to comment on the
planned project, but an industry executive who is involved
in it said the companies would decide in several months
whether there is a workable business model.

There have already been a number of ad hoc efforts and
several national start-ups trying to lash the hodgepodge of
802.11 networks together into a usable national network.
Companies like Boingo Wireless and Joltage Networks are
trying to sell services that would let a computer user sign
up once and use wireless access points around the country.

But the companies involved in the talks anticipate a more
ambitious effort based on building a new wireless
communications infrastructure that would also tie in the
nation's cellular carriers, offering a seamless transition
from low-speed cellular data standards to 802.11.

"There are a lot of moving parts that need to be tied
together," said Richard Miller, a wireless data industry
consultant at Breo Ventures in Palo Alto, Calif. "The big
issue in my mind is that will they have a nice smooth
service that can hand over the customer from wide area to
local area."

Such a service would require a nationwide mechanism that
would support multiple data standards and could automate
billing moving between high-speed and low-speed networks,
he said.

Other longtime industry analysts warned that the challenge
in such a wireless data service would be in getting all of
the different aspects right from the consumer's

"I think it could jump-start the industry if all the
components are in place," said Alan Reiter, publisher of
Wireless Internet and Mobile Computing, a wireless data
newsletter and consulting firm in Chevy Chase, Md. "That
has been the problem with wireless: everything has to work
well or consumers will reject it. You need the right
pricing, the right devices and right locations."

The rapid emergence of the 802.11 standard has been a
remarkable phenomenon that has so far been unplanned and
moved forward largely without the backing of major
corporate service providers. About 7 million wireless cards
were sold last year, a number the technology market
research firm IDC expects to grow to 25 million by 2005.

Part of the challenge is that 802.11 networks were not
originally intended to be used in the way that the Project
Rainbow discussions now envision. Originally the technology
was conceived as a replacement for wired Ethernet office
networks over ranges of several hundred feet.

The standard, however, has quickly gained a large following
of small companies and hobbyists who have extended it to
cover "hot spots" in urban neighborhoods.

The new wireless network would be welcomed by millions of
computer users, but it might find a less enthusiastic
audience among cellular carriers, who have been hoping that
wireless data would be a crucial component in
next-generation networks which are starting to be deployed.

It might also not be greeted warmly by current providers of
high-speed D.S.L. and Internet cable data service, who are
worried about competition in delivering data connections to
homes and businesses.

There are also a number of industry executives and
technical experts who say that the question of wireless
data standards is still very much up for grabs.

For example, the Motorola Corporation has not been a major
player in the 802.11 marketplace. In June the company
introduced a competing wireless data technology called
Canopy, which is intended to permit service providers a
competitive way to transmit high-speed Internet data over
ranges of up to 10,000 feet.


Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

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