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AOL goes wireless in Canada

AOL Canada, formed by America Online and Royal Bank of Canada, announces plans to test its Internet service over a new, high-marking broadband wireless network.

AOL Canada, formed by America Online and Royal Bank of Canada, announced on Wednesday plans to test its Internet service over a new broadband wireless network.

For the next few months, existing AOL Canada customers in the Toronto area will test the Internet service over a new fixed wireless network, built through a joint venture among Allstream; Inukshuk Internet, a wholly owned subsidiary of Microcell Telecommunications; and NR Communications.

Ron Mackenzie, senior vice president of strategy at Allstream, said the technology used to build the network is more reliable and easy to use than other fixed wireless solutions, such as Wi-Fi and Local Multipoint Distribution System (LMDS).

Unlike Wi-Fi, the Allstream network uses a licensed band of radio frequency for transmission.

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As a result, the network is free from interference and provides a more secure and reliable network connection than Wi-Fi, which uses unlicensed bands of radio frequency.

Because the network uses ultrawideband OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), a modulation technique that splits the radio signal into multiple smaller subsignals that are then transmitted simultaneously at different frequencies to the receiver, it doesn't require a line-of-sight connection between the transmitter and the receiver, which alleviates interference from objects or weather conditions that obstruct the transmission signal. This is a common problem for point-to-point fixed wireless solutions, like LMDS, that operate at higher frequencies.

The technology also doesn't require an external antenna or software to be downloaded. The device sitting at the customer site dynamically configures and provides immediate access to the Internet without requiring a technician to install it.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is currently working to develop an ultrawideband specification that uses OFDM. The standard is expected to be completed in May 2004.

Andrew Zimakas, general manager of emerging markets for AOL Canada, said he expects downstream transmission rates around 2 megabits per second. This is slightly better than the throughput AOL Canada's customers experience on the DSL (digital subscriber line) network, which is only about 1.5Mbps.

Allstream and its partners have already started rolling out live services to customers in Richmond, British Columbia.

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They say the network is capable of handling voice over Internet Protocol traffic.

The AOL service is currently offered across a range of connectivity options, including dial-up access and a variety of high-speed options, including AOL Broadband DSL with home networking. AOL Canada plans to begin the broadband wireless trial next week, and it expects to sell the service commercially later in 2004.

Ultimately, AOL Canada plans to bundle the fixed wireless connectivity with its Internet service. This strategy differs from that of its counterpart in the United States. In February 2003, AOL stopped offering high-speed access as part of its service bundling in the United States. Instead, the company is focusing on selling its Internet and content service separately.