While Clearwire is using wireless to provide competitive broadband service in Jacksonville, BellSouth -- the incumbent local exchange carrier -- is running a broadband wireless trial nearby in Daytona. After receiving press releases about the trial, we arranged a phone interview with Mel Levine, who is directing the trial.
Mel told us that BellSouth was looking for a cost-effective approach to provide broadband services to BellSouth customers that could not be reached by current DSL technologies. BellSouth acquired licenses for wireless spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band when it was planning MMDS video in the mid 1990s, and holds licenses throughout its nine-state region. It is not aiming to reach all of its customers, but only those out of DSL range.
BellSouth has been thinking about broadband wireless for some time. They ran a trial of a frequency division duplex (FDD) system three years ago in Louisiana, and decided to wait for non-line of sight self-install technology based on time division duplex (TDD). After evaluating several vendors, they chose Navini Networks for their trial in Daytona. (Verizon, another US incumbent telco, is trialing broadband wireless for "DSL fill-in" with BeamReach Networks equipment in Fairfax, Virginia.)
Since BellSouth is most interested in extending DSL service, their criteria for selecting technology were primarily based on the coverage area for service at 1.5 Mbps downstream and 256 Kbps upstream. They wanted the technology to permit self-install for users within the main coverage area. The ability of users to use the equipment at other places in the city was viewed as a nice feature, but portability and mobility were not viewed as requirements. (BellSouth is a partner in Cingular, a wireless service provider that plans to roll out 3G service to provide mobility.)
Mel told us that they were deploying two base stations to cover a large part of Daytona. The first base station is using three sectors, while the second will use an omni antenna. For this trial, the sector antennas are mounted rather low at 140 feet; based on the test results, BellSouth will calculate the effect of mounting them higher. The primary test area is 3 miles from each base station, but they are testing coverage as far out as 8 miles.
The Daytona 500 auto race took place recently, and BellSouth used the trial system to enable the press and crews to get online from the Daytona International Speedway - located about 3 miles from the nearest tower. BellSouth connected a small number of Navini modems with broadband routers to provide 120 access ports, including 90 at the media center. Photographers were able to upload high-resolution digital photos just after they were taken.
The trial will continue through April. After BellSouth has completed evaluating the results, it will decide whether and when to deploy wireless as a DSL extension.