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AT&T's "Project Angel" spreads its wings

The company launches its high-speed fixed wireless service to the commercial market after several years of trials.

AT&T is launching its high-speed fixed wireless service to the commercial market for the first time today, after several years of trials.

Dubbed "Project Angel," the technology marks a third way in which Ma Bell can bring its phone and Internet service to subscribers. Already AT&T offers service over ordinary phone and cable TV lines, but cannot reach as many U.S. homes as it wants.

"About half of the U.S. is covered with cable," said Michael Keith, chief executive of AT&T's fixed wireless division. "We're going after the other half."

Fixed wireless technology uses mounted pizza-size dishes to transmit voice and data signals at high speeds.

The kick-off puts AT&T ahead of MCI WorldCom and Sprint, which are relying more heavily on fixed wireless technology to reach new customers. All three companies are seeking technology to offer new packages of local and long-distance voice, high-speed Internet, and in many cases even television service.

The "Project Angel" service will provide customers with high-speed Internet connections, voice telephone service and a home network they can use to connect several computers.

Data rates will be determined by how many other people are online in the neighborhood at the same time. Like cable networks, the total amount of bandwidth in a given area will be shared between everyone who uses the service. The company estimates that download speeds will initially average about 12 times faster than a dial-up modem.

The service is kicking off in Fort Worth, Texas, today. But Keith said the company plans to expand the coverage area to 1.5 million homes by the end of this year, and 10 million homes by the end of 2001.

Voice service will start at $24.95 a month, with ordinary AT&T pricing for long-distance service. High-speed Internet service will add another $34.95 to the price tag.

Earlier this month, MCI WorldCom started its own market trials of fixed wireless service in several southeast cities.