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Broadband firm focuses laser networks for offices

Allied Riser Communications agrees to test laser communications technology from AirFiber in its broadband metropolitan networks.

Allied Riser Communications--one of the largest providers of communications to "multi-tenant units," such as large office buildings--has agreed to test laser communications technology from AirFiber in its metropolitan networks.

The deal represents one of the first uses of "free space laser" technology, the same highly touted technology brought to light recently by TeraBeam Networks.

Free space optical lasers use harmless, invisible beams of light at near infrared frequencies to deliver voice, video and Internet and data traffic at high speeds.

The technology has certain advantages over competing technologies such as fiber-optic cables and fixed wireless: Lasers are faster and cheaper to install because they do not require companies to dig trenches or buy expensive wireless spectrum. But experts say the lasers are more susceptible to foul weather, calling their reliability into question.

The emerging laser technology got a boost in April when communications equipment giant Lucent Technologies announced an investment in TeraBeam, and Nortel Networks signed a resale agreement with AirFiber.

But the Allied Riser trials mark one of the first communications carrier uses of the lasers. The company expects to use AirFiber's gear commercially upon successful completion of its tests to link its partner office buildings with its larger metropolitan networks.

A so-called on-site service provider, Allied Riser is part of a competitive market delivering communications services to large multi-tenant units.

The companies sign partnerships with commercial real estate firms, gaining access to corporate office rentals to wire them for high-speed Internet access and other services. The companies aim to offer packages of communications services for businesses at lower costs than those from traditional carriers.

Separately, Cypress Communications, a competing multi-tenant unit service provider, today completed installation of its network in San Francisco's downtown Embarcadero Center, one of the West Coast's largest mixed-use business complexes, with 3.7 million square feet of office space.