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MCI WorldCom starts high-speed wireless trials

With an eye to catching up with AT&T's high-speed cable Internet networks, MCI WorldCom is starting field tests of its new broadband wireless Net access systems.

With an eye to catching up with AT&T's high-speed cable Internet networks, MCI WorldCom is starting field tests of its new broadband wireless Net access systems.

The company said today it is kicking off trials of the Net service in three Southeast U.S. cities. That's a slow start in a market where cable modems and high-speed telephone Net services are fighting for customers in most major metro areas. But executives said the program should speed up quickly.

Though the fixed wireless strategy will start in only three cities, the company said that by late 2001 it will be offering service in more than 100 cities, according to Kerry McKelvey, marketing vice president for MCI WorldCom's wireless division in a conference call today.

The trials mark an important step forward in MCI WorldCom's ambitious campaign to use the new wireless technology as a centerpiece of its high-speed Internet strategy, even while AT&T spends billions of dollars on traditional cable-TV networks.

Early last year, MCI WorldCom and Sprint each started buying up "wireless cable" companies, which were just beginning to shift from video programming to Internet service.

Many of these companies were available relatively cheaply, having flirted with bankruptcy over the past several years. In the space of just a few months, the two phone giants snapped up companies that covered the majority of the United States, although their purchases were far from ready to offer full scale high-speed Net service.

Both companies cite see story: Mergers: How big is big enough?these strings of purchases as one of the driving rationales for their pending merger. The two companies' joint purchases will allow them to reach 54 million households with service, MCI WorldCom executives said today.

The initial MCI WorldCom trials will focus on two service packages dubbed WarpOne and Warp310.

The WarpOne system will be a business-focused package with different prices based on the speed of services. Warp310 is a consumer package priced at $39.95 a month, offering download speeds nearly six times faster than the fastest dial-up modems.

The trials will kick off in Jackson, Miss., Baton Rouge, La., and Memphis, Tenn. More advanced tests will kick off later this year in Boston, Mass., and Dallas, Texas, the company said.