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ArrayComm To Test High-Speed Network

June 6, 2000

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Cellular technology developer ArrayComm Inc. plans to offer some San Diego residents high-speed wireless Internet access for laptops and other small devices as part of a trial that highlights the race to make the Web a constant companion for business and play.

The trial, which could begin as early as the summer of 2001, will allow several thousand paying customers to transfer music, video and games and other complex files at a rate of 1 megabit per second or more from virtually anywhere, comparable to DSL service through phone lines or high-speed cable access, the company is expected to announce Tuesday.

The cost to users will be about the same as an ordinary dial-up Internet subscription.

The ability to deliver broadband Internet service to small devices has become a fixation for Internet, telecommunications and electronics companies such as America Online Inc., Nokia Corp., Qualcomm Inc. and Sony Corp., which invested $8 million in ArrayComm in April.

``It’s a Holy Grail because they see their voice business becoming a real commodity. The landline Internet? People don’t pay much,″ said Jane Zweig, a telecommunications analyst with Herschel Shosteck Associates.

Qualcomm already has held noncommercial tests of its own mobile high-speed technology. The company plans further tests in Japan, in partnership with Hitachi, later this year.

AOL and DirecTV, a division of Hughes Electronics, plan to deploy a satellite-based wireless broadband system later this year, but because users would connect through a satellite dish, the system would not allow for mobile or portable applications.

Companies such as OmniSky Corp. already offer limited wireless Internet to cellular telephones and handheld devices, but access is slow and typically limited to text messages.

ArrayComm is working with device manufacturers on specific applications for the trial, said Martin Cooper, ArrayComm’s chairman.

``Almost certainly we will have a road warrior application. Somebody with a notebook computer can move around as though they were plugged into the wall, except they will have a megabit per second, with freedom to move,″ he said.

Possible applications include music and video downloads, interactive games and an application that would allow doctors and patients to exchange information. Service will be about 400 times faster than existing programs that allow limited Internet access via cellular telephones, the company said.

The trial also is significant because of Sony’s involvement. The company has made it clear it wants to become a player in the Internet by building Web devices and distributing movies, games and videos online.

But so far the Tokyo-based entertainment and electronics giant has been little more than a bystander in cyberspace, despite the announcement last week by Sony’s entertainment arm that it will sell the computer chips that power its PlayStation 2 game system to competitors in hopes of increasing its market share.

Officials at San Jose, Calif.-based ArrayComm declined to comment on what role Sony might play in the trial.

A spokesman for Sony Corp. of America also declined to comment. When Sony made the ArrayComm investment, officials said they wanted to develop applications and devices that use ArrayComm technology.

The Federal Communications Commission granted ArrayComm a license earlier this year to conduct the test.

``ArrayComm has been around a long time. They’re one of the pioneers in the wireless loop. They have some very senior technical staff,″ said Mark Lowenstein, a telecom analyst at Yankee Group. ``ArrayComm does mean instant credibility, but they haven’t successfully brought a product to market.″

ArrayComm’s technology, however, is not fully mobile. Dubbed i-Burst, the technology requires users to be stationary or in a slow-moving vehicle in order to log onto the Web. It would not work in a fast-moving automobile, said Cooper.

The technology is unique in its ability to focus radio beams on the user, thus allowing service providers to transmit data at a higher speed and lower cost than other systems.

Standard cellular systems broadcast signals in wide areas, while i-Burstuses an array of antennas that are able to lock onto a user’s device and transmit data in a narrower area.

Similar ArrayComm technology already is used in regular cellular telephone systems in Japan, but not as part of an Internet service.

``They have very innovative technology that can do things other technologies can’t do,″ said Peter Christy, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. ``They’ve been doing this for eight long and very hard years, so they’re probably two years or so ahead of their competitors.″

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On the Net: http://www.arraycomm.com

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