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Nextel lines up new wireless service

The company could be the second carrier to sell wireless Internet access using 802.11b--a standard way for wireless network equipment to interact.

Nextel Communications wants to add 802.11b wireless Internet service to its repertoire.

Vice President of Enterprise Solutions Ernie Cormier said the company has inked a deal with RadioFrame Networks, which makes equipment that is supposed to enhance cell phone coverage inside buildings.

The equipment will also let Nextel offer wireless Internet service using 802.11b, a standard way for devices to communicate while showering an indoor area with super-fast Internet access, Cormier said. Cormier said such an offering wouldn't be for a while and would be aimed at large companies with multi-building campuses.

Nextel could be the second wireless carrier to sell wireless Internet access using 802.11b, which is a standard way for wireless network equipment to interact. Voicestream bought wireless Internet service provider MobileStar last year. Sprint invested in wireless provider Boingo. Analysts believe competitive pressure will force other carriers to sell this kind of wireless Internet service in the near future.

"The plan is to have the carriers in control of 802.11b," said Alan Nogee, an analyst with Cahners In-Stat Group. "They recognize that there are many places like convention centers where people are going to want even faster speeds."

802.11b transmits data via radio waves that are free to use and are shared by transmissions from cordless phones and Bluetooth products. Despite its shortcomings--which include porous security against hackers and a signal that travels only 100 yards at a time--it has found a home in airport executive lounges, hotel lobbies and a growing number of homes and businesses.

Cormier said the company is taking steps to tighten the security of any 802.11b networks it might offer. Information travels unprotected through the air on 802.11b networks, and a hacker with a reasonable amount of knowledge can intercept it. Hackers say it would be tough, but not impossible, to use this open door to ride the network all the way into a company's main computer.

"We recognize the problems and understand the issues," Cormier said.

Earlier this week, Nokia said it plans to sell a modem for laptops that can access both 802.11b and cell phone networks like AT&T Wireless or Verizon Wireless, which use a standard known as General Packet Radio Service, or GPRS.