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WiMax's Bay Window

EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK) will roll out a "high-speed, fixed wireless" complement to its WiFi mesh network in San Francisco, according to the documents released now that the operator and city have finally reached an initial agreement on the municipal project.

The pair reached an accord late on Friday after months of sometimes tense negotiations. The initial deal still has to be agreed upon by the city's Board of Supervisors. (See SF, EarthLink Agree on Muni Net.)

Nonetheless, EarthLink and the city are already looking beyond WiFi for the municipal project. The San Francisco agreement has a provision for products that will offer wireless services faster than the 1-Mbit/s "premium" service currently being promised over the WiFi mesh network: "Earthlink will offer a high-speed, point-to-point fixed wireless product [3 Mbit/s or best effort] by the time of the Final Network Accceptance."

EarthLink is expected to charge around $22 for the premium WiFi service. Fixed-wireless boxes could allow the operator to charge more money to select customers that feel the need for speed.

The firm could use WiMax base stations for such a service. Fixed 802.16d boxes are now readily available to buy, and EarthLink would be able to shop around for the best prices from a variety of vendors.

EarthLink's partner on the San Fran project, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) -- although it is not mentioned in the new document -- has already been experimenting with pre-WiMax gear from Alvarion Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR) to bolster backhaul capabilities at its Mountain View WiFi mesh deployment. There had been rumors that Google might have been testing WiMax access services as well, but a spokesperson for Google outright denied that back in October.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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