Wireless consortium pushes broadband agenda

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Wireless consortium pushes broadband agenda

IBM, Intel and AT&T are investigating the construction of a national wireless data network in an attempt to drive the adoption of high-speed wireless.

The Project Rainbow scheme would enable users of handheld and portable computers to access the Internet and corporate networks at high speed using wireless links based on the 802.11 standard.

Meanwhile, a non-profit group called Pass-One plans to create a so-called "service mark" or logo that indicates a particular hot-spot location were a subscriber can gain Wi-Fi access, no matter who provides the service.

Pass-One was created to organise the dozens of WISPs (Wireless Internet Service Providers) around a single standard for Wi-Fi sign on at public access hot-spot locations. Pass-One has an international membership with five founding members that include Wayport and US Open Point Networks in the US, Wificom in France, FatPort in Canada, and Swedish Tele2 in Sweden.

An IBM spokesperson would not confirm the existence of Project Rainbow, but in June, Dan Papes, vice-president of wireless services, a division of IBM Global Services, said that a national effort is needed to create a national, virtual single Wi-Fi network.

"There is no single carrier that will provide this capability. Some group will have to put this together, a virtual wireless LAN. A concept that we are extremely interested in but there is nothing that I can talk about," said Papes.

Papes added that smaller players could not handle such a project. "Some will die, others will combine with others like themselves, and others will be bought. Aggregators are not big enough to do this, and I say that with pretty high confidence. The scope and scale that is required means they would have to be a part of something much bigger and deeper pocketed than an organisation like Boingo [a Wi-Fi aggregator]," Papes said.

Some Wi-Fi aggregators - service providers that already are doing much of the same work proposed by Project Rainbow and Pass-One - also see self-interest driving Project Rainbow.

"I did not know the name [Project Rainbow] but I did know that IBM and cellular companies were talking about a general strategy position in relationship to Wi-Fi. Given the deployment of GPRS and 3G networks, Wi-Fi is a way to hedge their bets," said John Rasmus, vice-president for business and corporate development at Gric Communications. Gric is an Internet access aggregator that works with about 350 WISPs worldwide.

Rasmus said Intel's participation in Project Rainbow reflects its realisation that the company "can't keep pushing megahertz" and will have to add value through component integration of the various wireless technologies such as cellular, IEEE 802.11x and Bluetooth.

IBM, for its part, will focus on the systems integration work needed for airports and hotel chains. "It will also drive their enterprise systems integration business," Rasmus said.

Meanwhile, Pass-One officials expect to complete a multilateral roaming agreement by the beginning of next year that will require that all the signing members, large or small, to roam with each member, according to Phil Belanger, a Pass-One spokesman.

Belanger said the organisation wants to work with other groups like Project Rainbow; however, he added that it would be better if there were only one service mark.

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