In October, the Bedminster, N.J., carrier will roll out a WiMax trial for several customers in Atlanta, with hopes of following that with commercial services.
"This is a prelude to a full deployment of WiMax for next year," said Behzad Nadji, vice president of AT&T Labs Research and Network and Systems Architecture, in Florham Park, N.J. "Were looking at this as a way to save our access costs."
In Atlanta, four WiMax towers will be linked to a mesh backhaul of LMDS (Local Multipoint Distribution Service), using a spectrum that AT&T owns in the 38GHz range.
While a current trial in Middletown, N.J., uses some pre-standard fixed-wireless technology, the Atlanta trial will be "true WiMax" that adheres to the IEEE 802.16-2004 standard, Nadji said. He declined to name the trial customers.
If the Atlanta and Middletown trials are deemed successful, the company will roll out commercial services next year, Nadji said.
WiMax promises a range of several miles between client and base station, with average speeds of about 40M bps per channel. While the technology road map calls for the eventual ability to roam among base stations, 802.16-2004, or fixed WiMax, does not.
For the most part, fixed-WiMax proponents such as Intel Corp. are not targeting corporate building links but rather larger rural areas in underdeveloped countries that have little existing wired infrastructure. AT&T, for its part, currently is conducting additional trials in Alaska.
But officials insist there is a business case for urban, corporate WiMax services.
"For a company like AT&T, where we dont have a large local presence, its crucial to find alternate ways to access those buildings," Nadji said. "The expectation is that there should be a price advantage for the wireless."
But AT&T faces the hurdle of persuading customers to trust a nascent wireless technology over a trusted land line. While the 802.16-2004 standard is ratified, official industry certification tests will not begin until next month, and the first several products to be certified will run in a frequency band not generally used in the United States.
"Im not at all inclined to change even for what would appear on paper as a very considerable savings," said Gil Austin, president of CoreTechs Consulting Inc., in Silver Spring, Md. "I realize its not the same technology, but I havent been very impressed with wireless technology in general. ... I just dont see people rushing en masse to WiMax, even if there is a considerable savings, and abandoning their land lines."