Wireless system targeted at 'last mile'

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) helped unveil a wireless communications system in Blacksburg, Va., on Wednesday that reduces the costs involved in bringing broadband service the "last mile" into rural homes and businesses.

The Local Multipoint Distributed Service system, a wireless system that relies on radio frequencies, is designed to provide high bandwidth in areas where fiber-optic lines are not available and too costly to install. LMDS transmits data to remote users from a hub connected to the Internet by fiber-optic lines.

Boucher announced that the first rural test of LMDS had been successfully completed in Blacksburg, thanks to a partnership between Virginia Tech University and Wavtrace Inc. The school donated the technical expertise, and Wavtrace donated the technology and equipment necessary to test whether the system will be an effective way of delivering broadband service affordably to homes in rural areas.

"The LMDS deployment in Blacksburg means that truly affordable high-speed Internet access services for the residents of rural America are not just over the horizon," Boucher said.

"It's hard to say who is doing what in LMDS," said Cortney Martin, LMDS project director at Virginia Tech for communications network services. "But this was certainly the first rural deployment in the U.S."

LMDS can transmit data to multiple points at 4.5 megabits/sec, Martin said. Martin on Wednesday demonstrated the simultaneous deployment of two-way full-motion video, Internet Protocol voice and analog voice tests and an increased Internet downloading speed -- about 80 times faster than any dial-up method.

In terms of bandwidth, LMDS is the closest competitor to fiber-optic wiring, which can cost from $50,000 to $1 million per mile, Martin said. "I know we can already beat that, not including the spectrum price," she said.

Kimberly Tassin, director of marketing at Bellevue, Wash.-based Wavtrace, said the company was established in 1996 to build its Time Division Duplexing wireless broadband technology from the ground up and is using this partnership to test and improve that service.

Virginia Tech's partnership with Wavtrace was a natural fit for both organizations because the school was looking for a cost-effective way to deploy LMDS, and the company was in need of a flexible beta test site to gauge its TDD technology.

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