The new service, which was, will use a pre-standard version of technology called WiMax. BellSouth will be the first of the four Bell phone companies to use this technology to deliver a commercial wireless broadband service to homes and businesses. Qwest Communications International and SBC Communications also have indicated that they plan to test pre-standard forms of WiMax technology.
BellSouth customers will be able to choose from two flavors of service. The basic service, called FastAccess Internet Service Lite, offers 384kbps (kilobits per second) downloads and 128kbps uploads for $29.95. The FastAccess Internet Service Ultra product offers 1.5mbps (megabits per second) downloads and 256kbps uploads for $39.95. Customers who sign up for the service also must buy a $99.99 modem from BellSouth. The modem can be connected to a Wi-Fi router or any other router to connect more than one computer to the service, or users can simply connect to the modem using an Ethernet cable.
, which has not yet been standardized, 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 more than a mile in radius with bandwidth that exceeds current DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable broadband capabilities.
Some people in the industry see WiMax as a way to bring affordable broadband to remote areas. They also believe it can open doors to new broadband competition, providing a third alternative to DSL and cable modem service.
BellSouth said it still views DSL as its main broadband product.
"Wireless broadband is not intended as a replacement or substitute for DSL," said Mel Levine, director product management for BellSouth's wireless broadband service. "But our service only reaches 80 percent of our customers, and we want to find a way to reach the other 20 percent."
In BellSouth's initial deployment, it is targeting college students in Athens, Ga., home of the University of Georgia.
Because it doesn't require them to subscribe to a landline phone service, the wireless broadband service is appealing to students, many of whom use cell phones as their primary telephone. BellSouth requires its DSL subscribers to also subscribe to its local phone service.
BellSouth plans to eventually extend the service to communities in Florida. In these markets, the carrier will be targeting areas that are too far away from the central office to get DSL service.