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Verizon looks to expand its reach

The carrier is close to enlisting a new version of fixed wireless technology to expand its broadband network to 25 percent more homes and offices, a company executive says.

Verizon Communications is close to enlisting a new version of fixed wireless technology to expand its broadband network to 25 percent more homes and offices, a company executive said.

Brian H. Whitton, who is overseeing the carrier's broadband expansion, is expected to make an announcement soon on the company's plans to use the technology. The decision could be the biggest in recent years for companies creating "fixed wireless," which is a technology introduced a decade ago to spread broadband networks to areas where they're too expensive to use or not technologically possible to reach using digital subscriber lines or cable modems.

If Verizon decides to add fixed wireless into its expansion plans, other carriers are likely to follow, resulting in more business for fixed wireless broadband makers such as BeamReach Networks, which is supplying equipment for Verizon to test.

A no-vote from Verizon, on the other hand, could dampen the enthusiasm of Sprint and other major carriers testing similar equipment. Sprint is testing a service based on equipment from Navini Networks and IPWireless.

In an interview and in remarks made to 1,500 executives gathered in San Jose, Calif., for the Broadband Wireless World 2003 show, Whitton indicated the signs look good. "We're optimistic we'll see a commercial rollout by the end of the year," he said.

Fixed wireless broadband gets its name from the antennas that need to be "fixed" high above the ground so they can broadcast broadband access to homes or businesses--up to 30 miles away in some instances. Carriers ignored early generations of fixed wireless equipment because a connection could only be made if the antenna was within line of site of a receiver inside a home or business. Many of the areas carriers wanted to reach--rural sites in particular--didn't have suitable terrain for the gear.

But interest has been renewed by companies such as BeamReach Networks, which makes a new generation of equipment that doesn't require an antenna to be within line of sight. The company's equipment is capable of sending access at 768kbps to 1.5mbps, which exceeds some DSL service speeds.

Aging networks
The door has opened for fixed wireless because of problems the nation's carriers face over aging equipment on their networks.

The United States' broadband network is represented by about 200 million telephone lines made of copper, which can be augmented to provide high-speed Web connections to homes or offices.

Whitton said that about 65 percent of these telephone lines go directly from a carrier's network to a home or business.

The balance of telephone lines use equipment located miles from the network core. These light-green or beige boxes--sometimes the size of a minivan--are a pit stop for the DSL signal, which loses steam and speed as it travels more than about 3 miles. The remote terminals give the signal a boost to complete the journey.

Whitton said fixed wireless has become an option because many of these remote terminals on both Verizon and other carriers' networks are aging and "are not capable in most instances of being upgraded" for ADSL, a form of DSL that accounts for 90 percent of DSL access.

These problems mainly will be found in areas in the United States like the Northeast and upper Midwest, where the first broadband networks were built by Verizon and others, according to a representative for Alcatel, which sells Verizon telephone network equipment.

The problem is less acute for BellSouth and others that sell in Western regions, including California. They built their telephone networks later, using more modern technology that can be upgraded, the Alcatel representative said.