Wireless showdown in Chicago

EarthLink and AT&T are vying to build a new citywide Wi-Fi network in the Windy City, as Sprint Nextel also plans to debut its new 4G wireless service there.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon

Chicago is shaping up to be a hotbed for new wireless services. The Chicago Tribune reported Friday that EarthLink and AT&T are duking it out for a contract to build a citywide Wi-Fi network. Meanwhile, the city is also going to be one of the first places to get Sprint Nextel's new WiMax service.

The story, which quotes executives from AT&T, EarthLink and city officials, says that Sprint's service is unlikely to compete with the planned Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi signals travel for blocks, while WiMax signals travel for miles. WiMax also provides service when people are in moving vehicles. But Wi-Fi would not allow continuous connectivity in moving cars.

"There may be some overlap, but we see the two networks as more complementary than competitive," the paper quotes Tom Hulsebosch, EarthLink's Chicago-based vice president of municipal sales.

Sprint's WiMax service will likely compete with 3G cellular services offered from AT&T and other wireless operators like Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile.

EarthLink has been one of the strongest proponents of citywide Wi-Fi. The company already has contracts with several cities including Philadelphia and Atlanta. It's also still in negotiations to build San Francisco's Wi-Fi network.

AT&T, which originally opposed citywide Wi-Fi networks, has shifted gears, and it's looking to build Wi-Fi networks in Riverside, Calif., St. Louis and Napa, Calif.