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Wireless pioneer bets on broadband

Mobile industry billionaire Craig McCaw invests in NextNet Wireless, another sign of renewed interest in equipment used for high-speed wireless Web access in homes and offices.

Cell phone pioneer Craig McCaw has invested in NextNet Wireless, another sign of renewed interest in makers of equipment used to bring high-speed wireless Web access to homes and offices.

McCaw is the mobile industry billionaire behind AT&T-owned McCaw Cellular, one of the first successful cell phone providers. A NextNet Wireless representative would not disclose how much McCaw's Com Holdings invested but said that Com Holdings led the round of funding.

NextNet makes equipment that delivers high-speed Internet access to areas where the geography prevents connections using telephone lines or fiber optics. Earlier versions of so-called fixed-wireless equipment failed to rouse much interest from broadband providers because the antennas blasting the access through the air had to be within line of sight of receivers on a home or office rooftop.

Equipment from NextNet, BeamReach Networks, Navini Networks and IPWireless solves that problem. As a result, interest from carriers and investors is on the rise. Broadband providers in Ireland and Korea, as well as U.S. Web providers Verizon Communications, Sprint PCS and BellSouth, are testing various manufacturers' fixed-wireless equipment.

McCaw said in a statement that he chose to invest in NextNet because he believes the Minneapolis, Minn.-based company "will be a leading player in the broadband wireless industry." A representative for Com Holdings could not be reached for comment.

The NextNet announcement follows a $15 million investment in rival BeamReach Networks by Goldman Sachs Group and other investors earlier this year.

McCaw is a major shareholder of cell phone carrier Nextel Communications and satellite company ICO Global Communications.