Sprint Launches Wireless Broadband

SAN FRANCISCO (05/08/2000) - Sprint Corp. has launched a high-speed wireless Internet service that pits the U.S. long-distance phone company directly against cable modems and DSL (digital subscriber line) services.

Phoenix residents will be the first in the nation to get the US$39.95 monthly Sprint Broadband Direct service, based on the broadband dark horse technology called fixed wireless. Sprint expects to make its wireless broadband network available to more than 60 percent of the United States within two years.

Sprint representatives say the service is 36 times faster than a dial-up connection. It will be available next in Tucson, Arizona; San Francisco; San Jose, California; and Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The service pipes data at an average rate of 1.5M bps (bits per second) to a home or business. You'll need a diamond-shaped two-way digital transceiver on the side or roof of the building. The transceiver, about half the size of a traditional satellite dish, must have adequate line-of-site access to one of Sprint's transmission towers, which must be within 35 miles.

A Cure for 'Broadband Envy'

Sprint aims to cure "broadband envy" experienced by the teaming millions of Netizens who want high-speed access but can't get it, says Tim Sutton, Sprint Broadband Wireless Group president. Too often, cable and DSL providers aren't available in a region.

"We are going to be the only game in town in a lot of places," Sutton says.

Installation fees are waved for an introductory period, but you must buy a transceiver dish and a wireless modem. That costs $299 for a month-by-month plan, or $99 if you sign a two-year contract.

Businesses are charged $90 monthly, which supports five PCs. You can connect additional workstations for $5 monthly.

EarthLink 5.0 comes with the service. Subscribers get up to six e-mail addresses, home page server space, and customer service through EarthLink.

Sprint Broadband Direct is "always on," meaning that if your PC is on, it's online. The service supports upstream data rates of 256K bps.

Sprint plans to offer voice products and services based on Internet protocol technology in the months ahead, but Sutton would not elaborate.

A Fixed Wireless Future?

Fixed wireless competes with cable modems and DSL. None of the technologies is yet a clear market winner, although fixed wireless adoption lags the other two.

Cable modems lead, but DSL's popularity is growing, according to Yankee Group studies. Wireless access runs a distant third, with no more than 40,000 subscribers in 1999.

Sprint's wireless service relies on radio transmission signals to move Internet data instead of depending on phone or cable lines. Weather can be an obstacle for fixed wireless, which relies on an unobstructed broadcast line between antennas and customer sites.

Sprint's wireless technologies are an important part of the company's efforts to bypass the hard-wired networks of its Baby Bell and cable rivals. Sprint is the third-largest long-distance company in the United States.

In March, AT&T unveiled its fixed wireless service, called AT&T Digital Broadband, first available to homes in the Fort Worth, Texas, area.

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