High Speed Fixed Wireless

For several years now, Sterling Research has closely followed the fortunes of cable modems and DSL -- waiting and watching for one or the other to emerge as the ultimate solution for high-speed wireless Internet access. The lesson learned from this observation is that each technology will probably find regional or local acceptance, depending on several factors. Many of the reasons will have less to do with technology than with the cultural aggressiveness and vision of the provider who is offering one or the other solution. Right now, it appears as though the cultural advantage lies in favor of the cable companies. Unlike their local carrier competitors, cable companies appear committed to a cable-modem solution and see it as the wellspring for revenue-generating enhanced services.

But wait! A new competitor has appeared on the scene, complicating the picture by offering a new solution for high-speed Internet access. And if anything, the companies behind this new offering are extremely motivated because they are driven by more than a desire to offer simple Internet service access.

The technology foundation for this new high-speed solution is MMDS, an acronym for Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service. Ignoring the technical details for the moment, MMDS was developed more than 30 years ago as a way to broadcast analog TV signals using wireless technology. By installing an MMDS tower on a high point, such as a mountain or skyscraper, TV service providers could offer in-range subscribers up to 33 high-quality channels.

Today, MMDS is no longer used for analog TV transmission. Over the past few years, the former TV service providers have recast themselves as ISPs, capable of offering high-speed wireless Internet services over MMDS transmission facilities. MMDS is now poised to offer multimegabit per second Internet services to large, medium and small businesses, as well as residential users. It seems as if DSL and cable modems are in for some competition.

But what about motivation? Is there anything about these MMDS-based ISPs that can drive these companies to a level of success beyond the local telephone company or the more aggressive local cable company? The motivation lies in a surprising source, namely the ability to offer one of the most common and ordinary of services, voice.

Before the skeptics pull out their knives to cut this idea to pieces, it's important to point out that the argument here is not that MMDS-based ISPs are going to integrate into local telephone companies. In fact, what's going on in the market is that interexchange carriers (IXCs) -- the long-distance telephone companies -- are buying up regional MMDS-based ISPs. Frustrated by obstacles placed in their way, IXCs have added wireless ISPs to their arsenal of local bypass solutions, enabling them to offer local telephone service to business and residential users.

This is a powerful one-two punch in areas where MMDS technology makes sense. With the installation of a small antenna, business or residential users can get a high-speed Internet service connection along with local telephone service. And although not all geographies lend themselves to MMDS transmission, it is important to note that one recently acquired service provider can reach over 11 million households and 600,000 businesses in nine high-profile Business Trading Areas via their FCC authorized frequency rights.

So it's time to add another contender to the high-speed Internet access fight card. Depending on where you live, MMDS may soon make more sense for Internet service access than either of the better-known alternatives. --Sam Alunni is vice president of networking at Sterling Research (Sterling, Mass.). Contact him at alunni@sterlingresearch.com.