Telecom Companies Revise MMDS Rollout Plans

Both Sprint and WorldCom recently announced that they will be scaling back plans to provide MMDS wireless services.

By Lynn Haber | Posted Dec 14, 2000
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The telecom vendors giveth and the telecom vendors taketh away.

In back-to-back announcements, both Sprint Corp., of Kansas City, Mo., and WorldCom Inc., of Jackson, Miss., recently cut back their rollout plans for fixed wireless services based on Multichannel Multipoint Distributed Service (MMDS). The move on the part of both companies is believed to be closely tied with the July 2000 termination of their merger efforts by the European Commission, according to industry analysts.

MMDS is a fixed, line-of-sight, wireless technology that has long been used in broadcast cable transmission but was only recently approved for two-way data use. MMDS, which refers to a range of about 2.5Gh bandwidth, can reportedly beam signals as far as 35 miles. Fixed wireless is an always on, never busy broadband technology that doesn't require users to boot up or log on.

Sounded Like a Good Idea...

With the prospect of merging the two telecommunications giants earlier this year, an aggressive strategy for the roll-out of MMDS made sense, says Walter Miao, analyst with Probe Research, of Cedar Knolls, N.J. It was in the interest of both companies to make their systems more uniform and compatible, he says. Additionally, the vendors could leverage the costs associated with buying, installing, and deploying a vast MMDS network, he added.

With the dissolution of that merger, it makes sense that both companies step back and reevaluate their respective MMDS plans. In Sprint's original announcement, the company targeted 45 markets for MMDS service by the end of 2001. Earlier this year, WorldCom announced plans to deploy MMDS in 30 markets by the end of 2001.

Sprint's announced revision plans for MMDS are quite drastic, targeting only 13 markets for MMDS service by mid-2001--less than a third of the original proposal. WorldCom's scaled back MMDS rollout strategy now targets between 20 and 30 markets by the end of 2001.

Both Sprint and WorldCom were looking to deliver MMDS in the range of 1 to 2Mbps downstream with burst rates of up to 5Mbps, depending on customer's data transmission requirements.

Market Players

Sprint began delivering its new broadband wireless service to residential and small business users in Silicon Valley on October 24 and announced that on November 2 users in the Oakland, Calif./East Bay area would have access to the company's Sprint Broadband Direct service.

WorldCom is expected to launch its first MMDS service in Memphis, Tenn., later this month.

Neither Sprint nor WorldCom are first in the MMDS market. Teligent Inc., of Vienna, Va., and Winstar Communications, of New York City, are both large players in the broadband MMDS market.

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Exploring New Technologies

By slowing down their respective MMDS rollouts, both Sprint and WorldCom allow themselves to explore a number of newer wireless technologies on the horizon, according to Miao. There's an awful lot of wireless technology that's been evolving over the past 12 months that makes more effective use of the spectrum than MMDS, he says, noting that these other technologies offer wider bandwidth in the 1-GHz to 40-GHz range. In particular, Miao refers to LMDS, a near-line of sight technology, and advanced or wideband PCS.

Frank Dzubeck, president of Communication Network Architects, a network consultancy based in Washington, D.C., adds that fixed wireless technology, such as point-to-multipoint that operates in the unlicensed space, is another alternative technology for telecommunication companies looking to provide service in high-density areas. Working in the unlicensed space means that providers don't have to deal with licensing issues, like zoning, which aren't always easy to deal with, he says.

Point-to-multipoint technology isn't expected to debut until some next year. //

Lynn Haber writes on business and information technology from Norwell, Mass.

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