AOL Canada tests wireless service from broadband trio

The broadband wireless alliance of Allstream Inc., Inukshuk Internet Inc. and NR Communications, LLC, made its second announcement in as many weeks Wednesday, revealing that AOL Canada

Inc. plans a trial of the three companies’ wireless Internet access offering in midtown Toronto.

AOL plans to begin a technical trial shortly, conduct a limited market trial with fewer than 100 employees and “”friendlies”” by June and then launch a full-fledged market trial this fall, said Andrew Zimakas, general manager of emerging markets at Toronto-based AOL Canada.

The AOL trial announcement comes a week after Allstream, Inukshuk and NR announced a commercial broadband wireless access service in Richmond, B.C., aiming at small businesses, branch offices and teleworkers. Ron McKenzie, senior vice-president of strategy and corporate development at Allstream, said the partners will launch a similar service near Ottawa at the end of this week.

The service uses a non-line-of-sight, Multipoint Communications System (MCS) broadband wireless network that Inukshuk – a subsidiary of Montreal-based Microcell Telecommunications Inc. — operates in the licensed 2.5-to-2.7-gigahertz spectrum. Inukshuk has MCS licenses in all provinces and territories except Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and McKenzie said the partnership plans eventually to roll out services across Canada.

Allstream provides backhaul capability for the service through its national network, and NR provides technology expertise in areas such as customer premises equipment, McKenzie said.

Ian Angus, president of Ajax, Ont.-based telecommunications consultancy Angus Telemanagement Group Inc., said non-line-of-sight technology is the only type of wireless technology likely to prove viable for offering Internet access in urban areas. He said MCS is promising, but the jury is still out on how reliable and economical it will prove.

The service requires no software installation or registration, McKenzie said. A customer plugs in and turns on the wireless communications hardware and it detects the network and makes a connection. The hardware connects to one or more computers through Ethernet ports, or can be attached to a wireless network hub and used to provide Internet access via a wireless local-area network. Customers can take the device outside their homes and use it anywhere the network is available.

The companies claim download speeds up to 2.1 megabits per second.

Initially, Zimakas said, AOL plans to offer the service under the umbrella of its “”Bring Your Own Access”” program, which allows AOL subscribers to obtain broadband Internet access from other Internet service providers (ISPs) and have access to AOL’s online services. If the trial goes well, he said, AOL would probably want to integrate the wireless offering with its own software to provide customers with one-click access.

AOL will not charge for the service in the initial trial. In the Richmond offering, Allstream and its partners are charging $59.95 per month.

“”The objective of the immediate trial is obviously to prove out the technology and to provide us with a preliminary market evaluation – ease of use and such,”” he said. If AOL is happy with the results of the Toronto trial, expansion into southern Ontario could follow. “”The ultimate objective of both companies would be a national offering,”” said Zimakas.

McKenzie said Allstream and its partners can extend the service quite quickly, and are planning a number of further announcements over the next few months.

The MCS technology is more secure than the WiFi standard used for wireless hotspots and local-area networks, McKenzie said, because it uses licensed spectrum. Devices that can connect to the network are available only from the service provider, as opposed to WiFi cards that cost less than $100 in computer and office supplies stores. Also, he said, the fully digital technology provides full encryption.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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