AT&Ts Angel Spreads Wings

AT&T Corp. is preparing a massive rollout of its"Project Angel" wireless technology next year, joining what promises to be awide-scale over-the-air assault against the entrenched forces in local broadbandcommunications.

"We always said we would be ready for commercialdeployment [of Project Angel technology] by sometime in 2000, and that is still thecase," AT&T Wireless Services spokesman Kenneth Woo said.

Reports from the field indicated that AT&T has beguncontracting for new transmitter sites and engineering services as it continues to refineits marketing plans via a trial under way in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, since early June.

"It's too soon to say how [the trial] resultswill affect our strategy, but we're prepared to move ahead," Woo said.

Meanwhile, MCI WorldCom Inc., Sprint Communications Co., US West and several smaller firms also plan to launch new wireless services distinct fromtraditional mobile services and new high-frequency broadband services targeted tobusinesses at the LMDS (local multipoint distribution service) and other spectrum tiers.

Operating at lower-frequency tiers, these new services willbe able to penetrate foliage and, in some cases, walls to deliver interactive voice anddata services to homes and businesses.

For example, MCI plans to use newly acquired MMDS(multichannel multipoint distribution service) licenses to deliver two-way data andtelecommunications services. MCI also cut a deal with Metricom Inc., of which it owns 37percent, to resell Metricom's new 128-kilobit-per-second portable data service over aportion of unlicensed spectrum at the 900-megahertz tier.

U S West and wireless-broadband supplier Adaptive BroadbandCorp. are preparing a Denver-area trial that sources said is aimed at determining whetherunlicensed spectrum at the 5-gigahertz level can be used to provide high-speed-dataservices outside of digital-subscriber-line areas.

As usual, AT&T refused to discuss technical details ofthe proprietary system that it intends to use to provide multiple-line voice andhigh-speed-data services over fixed-wireless links using existing cellular and PCS(personal-communications services) spectrum allocations.

But sources contracting or bidding on contracts for variousaspects of the project said AT&T believes it has cost-effectively turned the littlepiece of spectrum it has left over from the mobile applications into a pipe wide enough todeliver a four-line voice and high-speed-data service.

"AT&T is definitely proceeding with siteacquisition and field preparations," said Chuck Sackley, senior vice president forsales and marketing at Wireless Facilities Inc., which supplies engineering andconstruction services to wireless operators. "They've already selected somecontractors, and we're talking with them in hopes of being chosen, as well," headded.

One of the selected contractors is American Tower Corp.,which has also been chosen to supply transmitter towers for the project. "Wehaven't started the work yet," American Tower executive vice president StevenMoskowitz said, because "things haven't been completely consummated."

But Moskowitz confirmed that his company and others haveturnkey contracts covering RF engineering, site construction and other requirements."AT&T is targeting major markets where they don't have cable," he said.

Moskowitz also confirmed that, as previously reported,AT&T plans to use spectrum at the 38-GHz tier it acquired with Teleport CommunicationsGroup for the Project Angel build-out.

Propagation limitations at 38 GHz make that frequencyunsuitable for delivering signals to end-users in homes, but the spectrum could be abackbone link between central base stations and microcells.

This two-tiered wireless approach would allow microcells tobe close to end-users, lowering the number of people contending for the limited bandwidthavailable from any one microcell. The high-frequency link back to tower-mountedtransmitters avoids using costly fiber.

AT&T officials declined to discuss the 38-GHz tier orother architectural aspects of the plan. Moskowitz said he wasn't sure how the 38-GHzelement would be used, but he indicated that it would be key to residential offerings.

Metricom -- which has a limited amount of spectrum to use-- has a two-tiered wireless approach to getting signals close to end-users, according tosenior vice president of marketing and sales John Wernke.

Using frequency-hopping code-division multiple-access radiotechnology, Metricom delivers saturation coverage indoors and outdoors to stationary andmobile users, Wernke said. The access link to the modem antennas is delivered over a thinslice of unlicensed spectrum (902 MHz to 928 MHz) via microcell radios on utility poles.

These radios are interconnected via wireless linksoperating at other frequency tiers to base stations known as "Wireline AccessPoints," which are linked to data switches via wireline backbone networks.

Through complex, software-based interactions, the systemdetermines which microcell radios within signal reach would provide the best service. Thisallows the system to handle a fairly high market penetration, while maintaining guaranteeddata rates, Wernke said.

"The system sounds complicated, but we've seen itin action, and it works," said Tom DiMatteo, business-area manager for GeneralDynamics Worldwide Telecommunication Systems, the wireless engineering and constructionunit of General Dynamics Corp.

GDWTS helped Metricom with technical tests in the SanFrancisco area earlier this year. "We weren't operating over a fully constructednetwork, but there's no reason to believe the system isn't scalable,"DiMatteo said.

Metricom has been securing rights of way to use light polesto mount shoebox-sized microcells, and it should have no trouble meeting its ambitiousconstruction schedule, DiMatteo added.

Metricom intends to operate commercially in New York;Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Dallas; Houston; Phoenix; Los Angeles;San Diego; San Francisco; and Seattle by mid-2000, with more than 40 markets targeted formid-2001, Wernke said.

MCI is the first to sign on as a retail provider of the"Ricochet" service that Metricom intends to wholesale, he added.

While all areas of a given metro region won't becovered in the initial build-out, the coverage will be sufficient to deliver service totargeted users, including Fortune 1000 employees and mobile professionals, Wernke said."We haven't decided on pricing, but we expect the service to be offered at asmall premium over some of the DSL options," he added.