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ArrayComm, Redback aim at national wireless network

A deal struck between wireless firm ArrayComm and networking firm Redback Networks pushes plans for a new high-speed wireless network a step closer to reality.

A deal struck between wireless firm ArrayComm and networking firm Redback Networks has pushed plans for an ambitious new high-speed wireless network a step closer to reality.

ArrayComm is hoping to serve as the centerpiece of a new kind of wireless service, in which content like music or videos can be beamed to mobile systems such as laptop computers or Walkman-style music devices. Sony has taken an $8 million stake in the company, in hopes of developing the plans.

The wireless firm today announced a deal with Redback, which creates network management tools that allow companies like cable modem or DSL service providers to handle millions of high-speed subscribers' traffic.

"The big news here is that ArrayComm is working with others to make this system happen," said Nitin Shah, the firm's executive vice president.

ArrayComm is one of several ambitious new companies that are trying to create new wireless networks for distributing music, movies, software, or anything else than can be digitally downloaded in a broadband world.

The company is run by Martin Cooper, a former Motorola executive who was instrumental in developing the first cellular phones. That has helped it attract attention from partners like Sony, despite the odds against delivering on its huge ambitions.

In order to create the kind of network that ArrayComm foresees, the small company will need to bring on board a wireless carrier, equipment companies that will make the mobile devices and the cellular transmitters, and win access to an expensive wireless spectrum.

Shah says many of these partnerships are in the works, however.

Moreover, even if successful, the company will have to compete with a new generation of mobile wireless services on the way from the existing cell phone companies. In the space of a few years, ordinary phone service will be upgraded to the point where people will be able to listen to streaming music and see video on their cell phones in the United States--a market development that is already just a few months away in Japan, analysts say.

ArrayComm's system, if it is put into place, promises download speeds faster than this next generation of ordinary mobile phone service. But it will not function when subscribers are moving quickly, such as in cars or trains.

But with cash in the bank, and pieces like Redback falling into place, ArrayComm executives are optimistic.

"There are a lot of applications that people are talking about now," Shah said. "Everything is coming together."