Sedona Tunes in to Fixed Wireless

Remote areas are turning out to be perfect proving grounds for broadband wireless technology.

Surrounded by canyons and brilliant red-rock monoliths jutting out of the desert, businesses in Sedona, Ariz., are beyond the reach of most high-speed Internet access services provided by digital subscriber line and cable operators. Such a "hardship" is what draws many people to the area, and it is also what makes Sedona an ideal location for fixed wireless services.

Wireless technology is making inroads into the marketplace as an alternative to traditional wire-line services, particularly in areas where it is too expensive to string wires. In the second quarter, sales of fixed wireless, point-to-multipoint equipment grew 10 percent, to nearly $70 million, according to a recent report by DellOro Group Inc., in Redwood City, Calif.

Now, hosts of vendors are exploring ways to overcome wireless technologys line-of-site limitations, which make it unsuitable for mission-critical communications and limit its viability as a widespread substitute for wire-line-based services.

This week, Navini Networks Inc., in Richardson, Texas, received $51 million in new financing to further develop its non-line-of-sight broadband technology.

By the middle of next year, the industrys largest service providers, Sprint Corp. and WorldCom Inc., will likely begin deploying the next generation of fixed wireless technology, which will allow them to broaden their customer base, according to Greg Collins, a director at DellOro.

"The promise of broadband fixed wireless as competition to wired technologies is a compelling one, but I dont think the technologys quite there yet," Collins said. "Maybe a couple years down the road, you will have self-install desktop antennas and radios."

Remax Sedona Realty Inc., which buys broadband services from CommSpeed LLC, uses wireless technology for all Internet access and e-mail.

"The speed is incredible," said Brenda Miles, office administrator at Remax, who plans to have the same service installed at her home.

The only real drawback, according to Miles, is the systems vulnerability to bad weather, but that is a far less common occurrence in Arizona than in other parts of the country. Storms at the Remax site or at CommSpeeds base stations can interrupt the systems line of site. But Sedona businesses are used to being inconvenienced in a variety of ways during bad weather, according to Miles.

"If theres a storm in Sedona, the power even goes out," Miles said. "You just find a way to work around it." Remax maintains a dial-up connection for backup service when the wireless link is knocked out by weather.

The largest fixed wireless vendor in the United States, Hybrid Networks Inc., supplies equipment for CommSpeed, for all of Sprints 14 fixed wireless markets and for four of WorldComs. Hybrid is the third leading fixed vendor in the world, following Alvarion Ltd., of Tel Aviv, Israel, and Alcatel, in Paris.