AT&T, IBM and Intel plan nationwide WiFi network

AT&T, IBM and Intel have announced plans to deploy a nationwide network of public access wireless LAN hot spots, codenamed...

AT&T, IBM and Intel have announced plans to deploy a nationwide network of public access wireless LAN hot spots, codenamed Project Rainbow at a news conference later today.

Intel spokesman Daniel Francisco declined to comment directly on Project Rainbow but said Intel's goal is to pump-prime public access WLAN deployment and development to the point that there is a hotspot no more than a five-minute walk from any spot in urban America and no farther than a five-minute drive in the suburbs.

Intel's next-generation processor for use in laptop computers, the Banias chip, will, eventually, include WiFI WLAN technology right in the chip.

WLANs adhering to the 802.11b, or WiFi, standards provide 11Mbit/sec. throughput for data. That compares with the 20K bit/sec. to 70K bit/sec. speeds offered by cellular carriers such as AT&T Wireless. But the range of WLANs is limited to between 100 to 300 feet.

A nationwide network of public access hotspots of the kind envisioned by Intel's Francisco would allow mobile workers and fleet operators to easily and quickly find a location that offers high-speed data.

The existence of Project Rainbow was first leaked in July. Since then, a number of vendors have been working to lock in various segments of the WiFi market. Last month, WorkingWild, a small Santa Fe, public access WLAN company, announced a deal to roll out 15,000 public access WLANs at Circle K convenience stores operated by Conoco.

WorkingWild buys "hotspot in a box" hardware priced at $199 from Toshiba America Information Systems, which also provides WorkingWild with the back-end billing systems. John Marston, director of business development at Toshiba America, said his company envisioned the development of a nationwide public access WLAN network during the next three years. Marston estimated that 100,000 hot spots would be enough to cover the country.

US company SiriComm is also planning a nationwide WLAN network that will be based in full-service truck stops and designed to serve large fleets. SiriComm CEO Hank Hoffman said he planned an initial deployment of 400 hotspots in truck stops.

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