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Verizon points Wi-Fi at small businesses

The Baby Bell begins a national release of its Wi-Fi equipment targeted at businesses with 100 or less employees.

Verizon Communications is thinking small when it comes to Wi-Fi.

The Baby Bell has, since November, been selling wireless networking equipment and installation know-how to Boston area businesses with under 100 employees, spokeswoman Catherine Hogan Lewis said Friday.

Satisfied with the trial results, Verizon Communications intends to target the rest of the nation's small businesses, she said, starting this week in seven Eastern seaboard states including New York and New Jersey.

"The plan is to take this nationally," she said.

Nearly every telephone company, both wireless and wireline, is rushing into Wi-Fi, which creates a 300-foot zone where devices can connect to the Web or an office computer network without needing to be plugged in anywhere.

The carriers' strategies differ dramatically. AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, the wireless arm of Verizon Communications, hope to capture a mass audience. They all sell Wi-Fi wireless access inside highly trafficked areas like airport lounges or coffee shops.

Nextel Communications is setting its Wi-Fi sights on large corporations, many of which already use Nextel Communications cell phones.

Verizon Communications thinks small business are the way to go, especially because these offices are often in rented space not designed well for wireless networking.

"Usually large businesses aren't in small rented space where installing wiring could be problematical," she said.

Verizon said Friday that it will be selling only Proxim's Orinoco Wi-Fi access points and cards. The cost of the gear and other services depends on the size of an implementation. For instance, a Boston real estate company with 15 employees spent $2,600 on gear.

Verizon Communications is selling Wi-Fi equipment that uses the 802.11b and 802.11a standards. It intends to sell 802.11g gear starting next month. Networks based on the 802.11b standard support transfer rates of 11mbps and are compatible with 802.11g, which is expected to handle 54mbps downloads. The 802.11a equipment supports 54mbps transfer rates, but isn't compatible with 802.11g or 802.11b gear.