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Verizon trumps Wi-Fi with 500 k/bits nationwide

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CES Stateside CDMA carrier Verizon is breaking open the piggybank to roll out its high speed cellphone service nationwide this year. CEO Ivan Seidenberg made the announcement at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Verizon announced a limited deployment of CDMA EV-DO in Washington DC and San Diego in September, with an all you can eat plan at $79.99 per month and the price is carried forward to the new nationwide service, branded "BroadbandAccess". Verizon claims average throughput of 300 to 500 kbit/s with bursts of 2 Mbits/s.

Nortel and Lucent provided the kit for the first two cities, but Verizon won't say which infrastructure providers will gain the spoils of Verizon's nationwide roll-out. (Nortel supplies the VoIP portion).Verizon itself says it will spend $1 billion on the investment.

Unlike Hutchison's 3 networks, Verizon is pitching BroadbandAccess firmly at the business user with VPN and backoffice support for customers, and a bundle of intelligent services under the name 'iobi'. And this is where it gets interesting.

Verizon's CDMA has always been able to trump the upstart technologies on convenience - if you have a signal, you're in a hotspot, and can now match 802.11b networks for speed. But not, on the face of it, on cost. However, that's before taking account of the fragmentation and lack of roaming agreements between Wi-Fi providers. A closer look, however, shows that a roaming business user can easily rack up these kinds of monthly bills hopping from network to network.

Counting features and convenience, Verizon's proposition looks even more attractive. Verizon promises iobi will offer features such as programmable call forwarding, or voice mail showing up as email, for example, or as its users wish, and much closer integration between the different kinds of networks: landline, IP or cellular. All this is as it should be, and such features have been touted as advantages of open IP-based networks, all of which helped fuel the 802.11 hype early last year.

While public Wi-Fi providers optimistically scratch around for revenues amongst the coffee shop cookies and cappuccino froth, Verizon's steady $60 a month per user revenues have permitted it to spend $3 billion on combined landline and wireless upgrades, and its the breadth rather than the depth of this investment that allows it to offer service bundles such as iobi.

If the promise - and there's much that's attractive - of open IP networks is to be realized, today's rather battered 802.11 service providers need to get their act into shape, and fast. ®

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