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It’s a mobile webhead’s dream. Instead of hooking a laptop up to a cellular modem, paying extra fees and draining cell phone minutes to download data at a snail’s pace, soon it may be possible to turn that laptop on anywhere and connect to the Internet at speeds comparable to those of digital subscriber line or cable modem services, thanks to a new wireless broadband system from San Bruno, CA-based IPWireless.

Although the broadband-Internet market has fallen short of predicted demand, Peter Jarich, director of broadband research for Washington, DC-based Strategis Group, believes IPWireless’s scheme is different enough from other options to succeed. “What we’re talking about here is something fairly new and fairly revolutionary,” he says. “People really say they would like this kind of thing. If they could move around, and if they could take it with them, there is definitely demand out there.”

The system will beam broadband data from base stations to wireless modems that can plug into any device with a USB port, from laptop to personal digital assistant. IPWireless will manufacture the base stations, which wireless companies like Sprint PCS and Verizon can simply attach to their existing cell towers. Unlike existing wireless data services, IPWireless’s technology is based on worldwide third-generation (3G) wireless standards-which offer both mobility and high bandwidth where other systems offer only one or the other. 3G transmissions can penetrate objects like trees and walls, and should result in fewer dropped signals for users and fewer required base stations for cellular companies.

Craig Wireless, a wireless data service provider operating in Canada and the U.S., plans to deploy IPWireless’s technology in Vancouver, British Columbia, in May or June. IPWireless is also talking with undisclosed companies in the U.S. and Europe. Although pricing will be up to individual resellers, IPWireless says they should be able to deploy and sell the service at a profit without charging any more than for DSL. So far, no other broadband option-including DSL-has managed to regularly make profits while delivering service at such prices. IPWireless thinks its technology will buck that trend because users can simply plug in the $300 to $400 Palm-sized modem (above)-initially made only by IPWireless-and sign up online, eliminating the costly need for technicians to set up new connections on-site.

Though IPWireless is likely to be first to market, several other firms have begun trials of competing portable broadband technologies (see table). If Web surfers find the technology enticing, the Internet revolution could finally be on the move.

Other Mobile Broadband Firms

Company Location
Airvana Chelmsford, MA
BeamReach Networks Sunnyvale, CA
Navini Networks Richardson, TX
Iospan Wireless San Jose, CA

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