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WiMAX Provides Cheap Broadband Alternative

As businesses outgrow DSL lines, they often find that T1 lines are too expensive. WiMAX provides a low-cost option.
Customer service, scalability and price aren't the only factors attracting businesses to broadband wireless. While most broadband wireless operators offer fixed services, some are beginning to add a capability unique to wireless: portability. Neoreach Wireless, for instance, is expanding its network in Tempe, Arizona to offer portable services.

"If you're a small business and you're paying $300 to $400 for a T1-like product, you can get that from a variety of sources in Tempe," said Bruce Sanguinetti, president and CEO of Neoreach Wireless. "But consider that same product, maybe the same price, then add onto that five or ten roaming accounts that let you go call on customers."

This isn't true mobility as will be the case with WiMAX when the 802.16e standard is adopted in the next year or so. Still, such services might be attractive to a whole slew of businesses, such as real estate and insurance agents who could carry laptops or PDAs to access documents or email while out of the office. He believes the portability feature, which the telcos don't have, will draw customers to Neoreach. Neoreach currently serves 30,000 customers with a fixed offering in 25 to 30 municipal areas. It has only recently begun offering the portable service and the number of portable users isn't available.

Neoreach's strategy is to build networks in cooperation with municipalities, like it is doing in Tempe. Its plan is to reach agreements with municipalities where the municipality allows access to assets such as light poles and city buildings so that Neoreach can build the network. In exchange, Neoreach acts as a wholesale operator, selling access to ISPs that provide service to end users.

Neoreach's future strategy may be particularly good news for businesses that are located in outlying suburban areas with little or no options for broadband services. Once Neoreach builds the municipal networks, it plans to add WiMAX capabilities to the access points at the perimeter of town. The WiMAX antennas would point outward, covering areas outside of the city center. The network will extend coverage into outlying areas and also allow residents or businesses in those areas to roam onto the city center network when they visit downtown.

While the business of targeting small to medium sized businesses may look rosy now, the future may not necessarily be so bright.

"Small to medium businesses a few years ago didn't buy that much but now small businesses have quite sophisticated broadband needs so they offer more revenue opportunities," said Gabriel. That means the bigger telcos are beginning to take notice and they may also employ wireless technologies as a low cost way to reach new regions and customers. "It's partly to get into regions they don't cover but also a different service so they can provide something a bit lower level and a bit cheaper." BellSouth and AT&T have both publicly announced broadband wireless trials.

AirBand's Kolczun doesn't expect the telcos to start rolling out broadband wireless networks any time soon. They've all been testing broadband wireless for years.

"Some may deploy it, some may not. It may be one of those things where they'll just take a company over to get the expertise," she said.

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