Lucent, TeraBeam Plan to Clear Bottleneck

FRAMINGHAM (04/14/2000) - The last-mile bandwidth bottleneck between the enterprise and high-speed access points has been a problem in search of a solution. A fiberless optical network system being backed by Lucent Technologies Inc. may be the answer.

Last week, Murray Hill, New Jersey-based Lucent announced that it has entered into a joint venture with TeraBeam Networks Inc. in Seattle to develop and deploy TeraBeam's through-the-air multipoint optical networking system.

The two companies will form TeraBeam Internet Systems, a venture scheduled to begin commercial deployment of TeraBeam's fiberless optical network later this year. Lucent will take a 30 percent stake in the company, while TeraBeam will retain 70 percent ownership, the companies said. All hardware used in the TeraBeam system will carry the Lucent brand.

No Fiber

The TeraBeam technology is optical, but it doesn't use fiber-optic cable, said Dan Hasse, CEO of TeraBeam. Rather, the TeraBeam system uses lasers to carry network traffic through the air to office buildings. No rooftop permissions or cable rights-of-way are needed, according to Hasse, because the user network sending and receiving device, which looks like a small satellite dish, can be placed behind an office window pane.

Moreover, since the system uses light waves instead of radio frequencies, licensing of wireless radio spectrum isn't an issue.

Also, because the system is point-to-multipoint, one TeraBeam hub can serve multiple buildings, Hasse said.

Commercial rollout of what's essentially an optical broadcasting system is a concept that Chris Nicoll, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Virginia, described as "very compelling."

"We're not just talking wireless from a customer to a base station," Nicoll said. "You could [network] a whole metro area in a matter of days.

Municipalities like Boston and Washington would probably appreciate using TeraBeam instead of tearing up streets [to bury fiber-optic cable]."

As with radio wireless, there are questions of reliability and interference from weather, Nicoll said. It's unlikely the TeraBeam technology will replace existing fiber-optic infrastructure, he added, since there isn't any reason to replace fiber that's already buried. The new technology will be attractive in places where there's no existing fiber, he said.

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