Joanie Wexler

An antenna plunked atop Seattle's Space Needle will soon enable business-class, point-to-multipoint WiMax-class services throughout the rainy city's dense urban core.

The provider of the service, Speakeasy, said last week that it is taking business customer orders for wireless broadband services that range from $500 per month for 3 Mbit/s services to $700 per month for 6 Mbit/s services with an annual contract. Commercial services are set to go live in June.

Landmark remains the same
The WiMax antenna is not altering the famous landmark in any way - it is reportedly replacing an older antenna that was already sitting atop the Needle. So nothing sacred is being newly violated.

The carrier indicated that Seattle is the first among several major cities in which it will roll out its fixed wireless broadband service for businesses. It is using Alvarion pre-WiMax base stations, as well as Alvarion end-user hardware that is based on Intel's recently announced standards-based 802.16-2004 WiMax CPE system-on-a-chip (SoC).

Rainy city makes a good trial
The services are "WiMax-class," in that no equipment will be officially WiMax-compliant until the WiMax Forum certifies it as such during the certification and through interoperability tests it will begin conducting this summer.

Seattle's challenging weather, terrain and dense architecture were among the reasons Speakeasy chose the city as the maiden site for its WiMax-class service deployment, according to the carrier. Speakeasy indicated that these factors make it one of the most difficult geographies for wireless communications in the country; the "if it can work here, it can work anywhere" theory.

Links independent of the phone company
Near-line of sight and non-line of sight installations are possible with Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple (OFDM) Access technology, which lies at the heart of 802.16 (WiMax) technology. From an enterprise standpoint, once WiMax services become generally available, growing business sites should gain availability of relatively inexpensive broadband access with capacity between T-1 and T-3 speeds (that's E-1 to E-3 in Europe), which is the enterprise "sweet spot." And because they are airborne, these services can be quickly deployed, bypassing the often-lengthy lead times of the local telcos.

Indeed, Speakeasy says its WiMax-class service network is completely independent of the incumbent phone company network and provides a resilient alternate connection for businesses.