Verizon bringing wireless service for business to Baltimore area

High-speed system to be launched Monday

September 23, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

A new high-speed wireless service for business is to be launched by Verizon Wireless Inc. in Baltimore and 10 other cities Monday, after trial runs during the past year in Washington, San Diego and Las Vegas.

The company won't introduce a residential version until next year. Analysts expect it to cost less than the current offering. Verizon's Broadband Access will cost $80 a month for unlimited access plus $100 or more for the computer card needed to use the system.

The service, among several offers being introduced or tested by a few of the major telecommunications providers, is the latest sign that wireless computer use is reaching the next stage of infancy, similar to wired broadband in the mid-1990s, when most Internet users relied on dial-up access.

Verizon's service differs from Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity). Wi-Fi "hot spots," increasingly situated on college campuses and in parts of cities, transmit Internet data within 300 feet of access points. Wi-Fi access is sometimes free, although there are pay systems that require users to subscribe.

Verizon's service uses the alternative technology EV-DO, which stands for evolution data optimized or evolution data only. With download speeds of 300 to 500 kilobits per second, it is described as 10 times faster than at-home dial-up connections, but slower than wired broadband and Wi-Fi.

The company estimated that an e-mail attachment of one megabyte, such as a small PowerPoint presentation, a large PDF file or three digital pictures, could be downloaded in less than 20 seconds.

Verizon tested the service first in Washington and nearby Rockville and Northern Virginia last year, inviting 40 businesses to try it. At the end of the trial, all 40 signed on.

Adoption "was faster than we anticipated," Verizon Wireless spokesman John H. Johnson said. The company then offered the service to businesses in Washington and San Diego last fall, and added Las Vegas early this year.

The Bedminster, N.J.-based company, a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone, plans to reach an audience of 35 million people by Monday in 14 cities and at 24 airports. It plans to add more cities and double its audience this year.

In the Baltimore area, the service will be available from White Marsh in the north to Owings Mills in the west, south along Interstate 95 into Washington and along the U.S. 50-301 corridor into Annapolis. Service is also available throughout much of the Washington area, from Montgomery County into Northern Virginia.

AT&T Corp. launched the 3G (third generation) version of high-speed wireless in six cities recently. And in June, Sprint Corp. announced plans to test its version by the end of the year.

Cellular providers have offered wireless Internet access for some time but typically used higher-frequency signals that aren't able to transmit very far or very fast, causing service to sometimes be choppy or slow. The development of EV-DO allows the companies to capitalize on their ubiquitous cellular towers, with a lower-frequency signal that can travel farther and faster.

"Certainly it's about being able to support more - more business services, more business applications in a wider variety of environments," said Lisa Pierce, a vice president with Forrester Research Inc., a technology analyst in Massachusetts. "Road warriors ... people who as a course of doing business are out and about" will appreciate the technology."

BroadbandAccess will cost business users $79.99 a month for unlimited access, plus $100 to $250 for a card that enables computers to use the system.

"If you're talking $80 per month, that's not something most individuals want to pay for," said Allen Nogee, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR, a technology research firm in Arizona. "Over time, these prices hopefully will go down."

Wired high-speed Internet followed a similar path a decade ago with business as an early adopter and most consumers relying on relatively slow, but inexpensive telephone dial-up connections. Today more than half of all households online - about 70 million - pay for faster broadband connections, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Verizon said its service isn't meant to compete with Wi-Fi but to fill another, more mobile niche.

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