MCI Tests Fixed Wireless Service in Boston

MCI WorldCom plans to test a fixed wireless service in Boston that promises business and residential customers high-speed data access without the need to hook up to wired services from phone or cable companies.

The effort represents the first major market test of the new service. MCI WorldCom has spent more than $1 billion just to acquire the needed spectrum to run the service.

MCI WorldCom expects that the new fixed wireless service can offer business customers data rates from 128K bit/sec. to 2M bit/sec., based on ongoing tests in Jackson, Miss., Baton Rouge, La., and Memphis. In Boston, MCI WorldCom plans to be able to serve customers within a 35-mile radius of the downtown area served by transmitters on five towers, each of which have a coverage area of five to 10 miles, an MCI spokesman said.

MCI WorldCom uses the multichannel multipoint distribution service (MMDS) operating in the 2.5GHz frequency range for its new fixed wireless service. MMDS started out as a one-way service in the mid-1970s, used by cable TV operators to transmit multichannel offerings to population pockets that were expensive to wire. In the mid-1980s, entrepreneurs tried to use MMDS to stitch together nationwide "wireless cable" companies, many of which folded without providing any service.

In 1998, the Federal Communications Commission authorized two-way MMDS service, which led to a buying frenzy by both MCI and Sprint - which MCI WorldCom has agreed to acquire. A spokesman for ADC Telecommunications Inc. in Minnetonka, Minn., said both companies "spent over $1 billion on MMDS licenses, and now probably control about 80% of the market."

MCI WorldCom has MMDS license in 160 markets, according to the MCI WorldCom spokesman.

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