SAN FRANCISCO (06/12/2000) - The wireless Internet may offer many conveniences, but a fast connection isn't one of them. Now, 1 megabit-per-second speeds may soon be within reach, through work by ArrayComm Inc. with its I-Burst wireless technology.
Typical wireless connections top out at 9600 bps, using the wireless application protocol (WAP). A number of companies are working on higher-speed wireless Internet connections. But ArrayComm claims I-Burst will compare favorably with cable and DSL high-bandwidth connections.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has awarded the company a spectrum license for a full-scale commercial test of I-Burst. Tests are scheduled to begin next summer in San Diego, and the company expects to roll out the service to 100 major metropolitan areas by the end of 2001.
Unlike today's limited wireless Internet technology, I-Burst can be used with a standard notebook PC by plugging in a specialized PC Card. ArrayComm manufactures the chips needed on both the client device and at the cell site, but won't manufacture the devices. It plans to license the technology and have other companies market end-user devices.
The high-speed wireless service should be priced comparably to existing high-bandwidth solutions, which average $40 to $50 monthly, says a company spokesperson.
I-Burst is an extension of ArrayComm's IntelliCell technology, which is used in more than 30,000 cell sites worldwide, according to the company. (A typical cell tower, especially in congested urban areas, can contain dozens of cells.) In current wireless technology using telephone cells, the 9600-bps speed limit is largely a result of the limited bandwidth of an individual cell. Giving users a faster connection would drastically limit the number of users that could use a cell at the same time.
But I-Burst can offer the higher speeds because it vastly increases the bandwidth of an individual cell. I-Burst uses special antennas and software to "lock on" to an individual user and send a tightly focused signal directly to the user's wireless device. This allows more than one I-Burst-equipped device to use the same frequencies. Currently, I-Burst can deliver full 1-mbps connectivity to up to 40 users per cell.
ArrayComm officials expect new consumer services and consumer devices, many not yet available, to take advantage of high-speed wireless connectivity. Sony is one of the major companies that have invested in ArrayComm, and others include AOL, Nokia, and Qualcomm.
Sony will also play a major part in next year's San Diego test, although details aren't available yet. An ArrayComm spokesperson points out, however, that the Sony PlayStation 2 has Internet connectivity, and applications such as streaming high-quality video and audio are logical uses for high-speed wireless.
I-Burst does have one limitation over conventional wireless technology. It's not designed to deliver its full 1-mbps bandwidth to a fast-moving device, such as an automobile. Users need to be either standing still or moving at a walking pace.