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8/25/2006
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Israeli Company Plans Wi-Fi Phone Service In U.S. Cities

Trans Con Mobile says it's negotiating with various municipalities about putting base stations on buildings for its network and claims to be close to announcing a deal with a mid-America city.

Does the United States need another wireless carrier? An Israeli company thinks so and is hoping its Wi-Fi-based system will land it a place in the carrier market.

Trans Con Mobile says it's working to acquire building permits to install its access points and antennas on building rooftops, and claims it's close to unveiling a deal with an unnamed mid-America city for coverage. For customers, the company can offer lower rates than cellular carriers, chairman Avi Shani says. Trans Con Mobile's network would use the free, unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum instead of the licensed spectrum that carriers use and must pay for.

Trans Con Mobile's plan isn't entirely unique: Four manufacturers will soon release Wi-Fi phones that work with Skype, eBay's VoIP service, and some cell phone companies are developing dual-mode phones that switch between cellular and Wi-Fi as needed. But Shani says his company has something unique with a smart phone-type device it developed. The phone offers about six hours of talk time and 120 hours of standby time on a single charge, and gives subscribers access to E-mail, the Web, text messaging, and voice calling, at a fixed monthly price.

Yet any voice service based on the unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum is likely to face quality problems, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney says, adding that Trans Con Mobile will have a tough time making headway in the established U.S. market. Haim Yashar, a director at Trans Con Mobile, says the company has tackled quality issues with technology it's developed, noting that Trans Con Mobile has patent-pending designs for hardware and software on the network and handset sides that deliver "cellularlike" service.

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