The launch of a multipoint communications system in a Vancouver suburb will aim to bring affordable high-speed wireless services to rural businesses and consumers, partners behind the joint venture said Thursday.

Allstream

and NR Communications unveiled the network at an event in Richmond, B.C. with Inukshuk Internet, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Microcell Communications. Services through the network include Internet, IP-based voice and local networking. Allstream launched a bundled high-speed wireless service for enterprises with remote branches and teleworkers, while Microcell unveiled a residential service under its Fido brand.

Inuksuk and its partners have already launched commercial deployments of similar networks to serve Yellowknife and areas of Nunavut earlier this year. The Richmond network’s commercial services will be based on a wireless IP platform provided by NexNet Wireless and will operate on 60 Mhz of spectrum in the 2.5-range frequency licensed by Microcell.

NR Communications CEO Nick Kauser said selecting the right non-line-of-site product required considerable research for the partners, adding that NexNet’s Expedience platform is the most reliable plug-and-play option available.

“”You’d be surprised at how many claims we had to unravel that were not quite there,”” he said. “”I have been part of this fixed wireless industry far too long to be excited about claims in the press.””

Iain Grant, an analyst with research firm The Seaboard Group in Toronto, said customers won’t care about the sophistication of the platform as long as the service levels are acceptable.

“”I don’t think there’s anybody on the planet that has more background in making wireless technologies work in a commercial setting than Nick Kauser,”” he said. “”I figure if he’s comfortable, it’s probably a pretty good bet.””

In demonstrating the set-up process, Allstream vice-president of strategy Ron McKenzie said users would simply have to open the box, plug it in, connect to an Ethernet cable and the system would automatically configure itself. The instructions that come with the access node have been limited to one page.

“”There are no manuals. There are no disks. There’s no software to load,”” he said. “”There’s no technology because all the intelligence has been built into the system.””

Allstream vice-chairman and CEO John McClennan said the company will begin selling services on a wholesale basis to service providers who will retail directly to customers.

“”Allstream hasn’t been playing in that space, because it has all this fibre in all these buildings. Small businesses don’t really need all that fibre,”” said Grant. “”This is a way for Allstream to go out and reach into those neighbourhoods. This could be very important.””

Microcell president Andre Tremblay said the residential iFido service, meanwhile, will offer an alternative to digital subscriber line and cable Internet services.

“”Richmond is an important market for Microcell — maybe too important for our competitors,”” he said, referring to the fierce rivalry that has sprung up among wireless carriers since Microcell introduced its CityFido plan in Vancouver. The success of the plan has prompted considerable counter-marketing from Telus and Bell, who are urging customers to switch to their own plans.

The high-speed service may take the industry by surprise, said Grant.

“”They’re offering wireless consumer broadband — they’re supposed to be a cellular phone company,”” he said. “”I don’t think anyone suspected it.””

The partners said they plan to expand their commercial deployment to a second Canadian site in the coming weeks, and will be finalizing deployment plans by mid-2004 to deploy the offering nationally.

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