BellSouth's WiMax offered as broadband backup

Company will market its WiMax wireless service as a disaster-ready add-on to its regular broadband service.

LAS VEGAS--BellSouth plans to offer a wireless broadband service that was introduced last year for disaster recovery.

On Tuesday at the TelecomNext trade show here, the company will announce a 1.5-megabit-per-second wireless broadband service available for use as backup system should the customer's regular broadband connection fail. The service will cost $29.95 a month in addition to the client's regular broadband fee.

BellSouth has been offering wireless broadband as a standalone service for $69.95 a month since last year in several cities, including Athens, Ga.; Palatka, Fla.; ; Gulfport, Miss.; and DeLand, Fla.

BellSouth decided to create the wireless backup service after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans and surrounding areas on the Gulf Coast hadn't been part of the original deployment plan for the wireless broadband service, but when Hurricane Katrina struck and left thousands of BellSouth customers without their regular broadband and phone service due to flooded central offices and access lines, the company deployed the wireless service to get residents and businesses back online more quickly.

"Katrina was a real-life lab for us when it came to developing backup strategies," said Michael Bowling, vice president of convergence and platform development at BellSouth. "But we found that customers wanted to return to their regular broadband service when things were up and running again."

Bowling said customers balked at the idea of paying $69.95 per month to have wireless broadband available just as backup, so the company created the $29.95 add-on service.

The wireless technology BellSouth uses to deliver the service is very similar to WiMax, which was standardized last year. For BellSouth's wireless service, signals are transmitted using its wideband 2.3GHz spectrum between local radio towers and modems sitting at the subscriber's home or office. BellSouth was the first major phone company to offer a commercial wireless broadband service based on WiMax-like technology.

WiMax is a radio-frequency technology that promises to deliver two-way Internet access at speeds of up to 75mbps. Its backers claim that WiMax can transmit data up to 30 miles between broadcast towers and can blanket areas of more than a mile in radius.

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