New service extends wireless Net

Federal government employees and other mobile workers will soon be able to log onto the Internet from virtually anywhere, thanks to a new offering that Verizon Wireless and Qualcomm Inc. will introduce this fall.

The Internet service will use technology similar to mobile phone infrastructure to create a coverage area. Users within the coverage area can turn on a laptop computer, mobile phone or other device and be connected immediately to the Internet.

The companies are blanketing their first two markets, Washington, D.C., and San Diego, with base stations needed for connection, said Jonas Neihardt, vice president of federal government affairs for Qualcomm. "This whole area is going to become a [wireless] 'hot spot' 60 miles wide," he said.

"High-speed connectivity should be something a user doesn't have to think about, like making a phone call," said Jeffrey Belk, senior vice president of marketing at Qualcomm.

Verizon and Qualcomm consider the federal government a likely prime buyer for the product. If agencies are convinced the technology is secure, they will snap it up, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting in Jenkintown, Pa.

"Not only will it be attractive to the mobile worker, it will address some of the work-from-home issues," Suss said. "If it really provides the functionality and the security that agencies need, I think it will take off like a rocket."

But one federal employee said it might take time to convince government buyers. Reluctance to take risks sometimes hinders agency employees, said the policy official said. "It's frustrating for us on the policy side to see all these innovative technologies and not have them available," he said.

Verizon has not set pricing or picked a name for the service. It is based on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), a digital wireless technology developed by Qualcomm that has been growing in use during the past several years. The Internet technology is called 1X Evolutionary-Data Optimized, or 1XEV-DO, an early manifestation of the much-hyped 3G, or third-generation wireless technologies.

Qualcomm and Verizon have started demonstrations and tests of the technology in real-world applications, including a demonstration late last week for agency and congressional staff members. In such settings, the service moves data at 200 to 800 kilobits/sec, comparable at the upper end to some landline broadband Internet services.

By the time the wireless service starts in the fall — the companies have not set an exact date — Washington, D.C., and the near suburbs will be covered, company officials said. Eventually, the District and the area extending several miles past the Beltway in all directions will have access, Verizon officials said.

Wireless Internet users often worry that hackers can "sniff," or eavesdrop on their data transmissions. The new service will use technologies such as private-key encryption to protect data as it is transmitted, said Fran Filippelli, a senior systems engineer for Verizon.

"CDMA is one of the most secure wireless technologies available to the public," he said. "It would take quite an individual to sniff it."

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