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Look, Ma Bell, no wires

AT&T pushes a "first major breakthrough" with wireless technology that allows 128-kbps Net access.

AT&T Wireless Services will try to connect U.S. households to the Net at 128 kbps, the company announced today.

The wireless setup, which will see a trial run later this year in Chicago, supports the speedy connection to the Net, two phone lines, or a phone and 64-kbps access. Pricing plans were not available.

"This is the first major technology breakthrough for the new AT&T, continuing the company's heritage of innovation and positioning AT&T as the communications leader for the next century," said John Walter, president of AT&T, in a statement.

AT&T has tested the product over the past two years and has the licenses for the 10-MHz radio spectrum it requires to provide the new technology, which got through Federal Communications Commission auctions.

Consumers can keep their touch-tone wired telephones and current phone numbers but can use the wireless service as extensions in their homes at local service rates. The system requires that a pizza-sized box be attached to the side of customers' houses in order to connect wirelessly to an AT&T digital switching center. The center is attached to a neighborhood antenna mounted on a utility pole or other structure; a single antenna will serve up to 2,000 homes, the company says.

Competition for Net access is stiff, however, from other telcos and cable television companies which are using their own networks. But wireless access has is growing in popularity in areas that lack adequate telecommunications infrastructure. Further, local phone companies complain that Net traffic is overloading out their switches, making wireless an attractive alternative to many.