AirFiber Launches Last Mile Connectivity Option

SAN MATEO (04/24/2000) - The high costs associated with providing last-mile broadband networking connectivity into office buildings is prompting vendors to develop new alternatives, the latest of which will be revealed this week when AirFiber Inc. publicly launches itself and its first product, dubbed OptiMesh Network.

AirFiber said its product connects buildings to carriers' fiber-optic backbones using laser beams of near-infrared light to send data, voice, and video at speeds up to 622Mbps. For enterprises, this means a quicker path to broadband connectivity and bandwidth-rich applications, such as videoconferencing and streaming video.

"The issue with fiber isn't its existence -- it is connecting buildings to that fiber," said Jim Dunn, president and CEO of AirFiber.

AirFiber's technology is similar to a technology announced last month by TeraBeam Networks in that both use light beams to transmit data into buildings.

But whereas TeraBeam's service beams data over a wide area, AirFiber's OptiMesh product sends a narrow light beam over a short distance to capture a node on a building. This narrow beam has more power, allowing it to penetrate adverse weather conditions such as fog, which pose a challenge for free-space optical services, said officials at AirFiber.

OptiMesh is in beta trials with six carriers around the world, with service deployment expected by year-end, AirFiber officials said.

According to one analyst, fiberless optical services will likely work in tandem with other technologies, such as DSL, fiber, satellite, and LMDS (Local Multipoint Distribution Service), to bring broadband capabilities to businesses.

"There will be a complement of all these technologies used to solve the last-mile problem," said Claude Romans, director for access networks at RHK, in South San Francisco, California.

"[This] is a major area of competition -- getting broadband services to the building, then getting [them] distributed," Romans said. "Within five years an awful lot of those buildings will have fiber or some broadband capability."

AirFiber has attracted some big-name backers, including Nortel Networks Corp., which, in addition to putting up money, will manufacture AirFiber products for resale. TeraBeam, meanwhile, has a partnership with Nortel arch-rival Lucent Technologies Inc., which will work with TeraBeam to develop and deploy the solution.

AirFiber Inc., in San Diego, is at www.airfiber.com.

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