Verizon: WLAN, Phone Home

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has started offering free wireless LAN access to its DSL users in select areas in New York City as a perk to existing customers and a enticement to new ones.

The massive service provider is installing wireless LAN hotspots in its payphone boxes in NYC and says it will have 1,000 in place by the end of the year. Verizon has so far fired up 150 of the 802.11b (11-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) sites in Times Square, Greenwich Village, and the finanicial district.

Verizon is using access points and omni-directional antennas from Proxim Corp. (Nasdaq: PROX) to provide up to 300 feet of WLAN coverage around each phone box. The idea is not that Verizon customers will cluster 'round the booth in order to get access but can catch a wireless wave in nearby buildings.

Verizon is using DSL over the existing phone lines to connect the access points to the Internet. Philip Nutsugah, of the firm's broadband wireless Internet group, says it doesn't take long to set up a new site -- it’s a case of installing the WLAN equipment, running DSL over the coin phone line, and making sure that there is power at the site to run the additional equipment.

However, he won't reveal where exactly in the phone box Verizon installs the access point (ed. note: probably afraid of people nicking 'em, especially near the Unstrung office!). "I can't go into a lot of detail on that," says sweet Phil. Phone booths equipped with wireless LAN should be easy to spot though, just look for Verizon boxes with a "black dish" or "salt-shaker" style antenna on top.

IDC wireless analyst Keith Waryas says that Verizon's move and its "huge penetration" in the broadband market could potentially help to greatly increase the number of people using public WLAN services. He estimates that there are around 34,000 people who regularly log on to hotspots in the U.S. "There's potential value-added service opportunities for both wireline and wireless service providers," he says.

There are a number of the larger wireless and wireline players getting into the WLAN game. T-Mobile USA, which is offering a hotspot service, has just started to offer customers integrated billing (see T-Mobile Unifies Wireless Billing). AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T) is providing the backhaul for Cometa Networks's wholesale WLAN venture. (see Rainbow Unveiled).

Verizon's Nutsugah says Verizon may start to offer the WLAN service in other "major metropolitan areas" after it has been built in NYC.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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