Pricing plans vary for wireless service that is primarily targeting smaller businesses.
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By David Hermann / firstname.lastname@example.org
CLAREMONT -- Four Inland Empire companies have launched services that provide area businesses high speed Internet access using antennas and radio waves instead of cable or a phone line.
Ultimate Internet Access was the first to introduce its wireless service to subscribers last month, but by May 1 the Claremont-based company had been joined in the Inland Empire wireless Internet market by providers such as Linkline Communications in Mira Loma and PE.net and URS2.net in Riverside.
Available data transmission speeds range from 128,000 bits per second -- more than twice the speed of the typical 56k dial-up system -- to 2.5 million bits per second, a speed more than 1 1/2 times faster than that offered by a T1 line. "The real advantage of wireless is that it doesn't use the telephone system," said Chet Bruce, the owner of URS2.net, said. "It can go literally anywhere where two antennas can see each other. It can go in the smallest town and be rolled out just as effectively and just as inexpensively as it can in a major metropolitan area."
URS2.net -- which offers what it calls "Wire Free DSL" through a sister company, Coalition for Affordable Broadband Access (C4ABA) -- has only signed up about a dozen subscribers in Riverside. But Bruce said he sees the service rapidly expanding beyond its current 8-mile radius from that city's downtown.
"Within two years, I would fully expect it to cover if not most, then all of Inland Empire," Bruce said.
The costs of wireless Internet service vary widely among the four companies.
URS2.net charges about $56 a month for a connection speed of 1.5 megabits per second -- the equivalent of a T1 line. But subscribers are required to make a hefty initial investment in equipment, a price that Bruce balks at disclosing, before signing up.
Bruce said his company does offer financing for that initial investment and helps subscribers sell their interest in the equipment if they relocate or change services.
Linkline Communications only officially began offering its Air-WAV wireless Internet service on May 1, but Chief Executive John Purpura said the company has already signed up about 10 subscribers and received nearly 1,000 inquiries.
Purpura said the company has plans to expand its service area beyond the Inland Valley.
"We will be setting up in San Bernardino in two months, and then we'll pick up the San Bernardino Valley," he said.
At Linkline the customer's initial investment is much smaller than URS2.net. New customers pay about $400 for the wireless equivalent of a modem, an antenna and installation. Monthly service fees range from $59.95 a month for 128 kilobits per second to $349 a month for 2.5 megabits per second.
Unlike Linkline, which provides its own broadband wireless Internet service, PE.net and Ultimate resell service provided by SkyRiver Communications -- a La Jolla-based broadband wholesaler.
In March, SkyRiver signed a five-year contract with Ontario agreeing to provide wireless service to 22 city buildings in exchange for permission to mount antennas atop those buildings.
Jim Babinski, Ontario's director of information technology, said SkyRiver is in the process of installing the antennas.
"They are providing us an internal network and in turn using our rooftops not only to provide us with service, but also to provide their commercial customers with service," he said.
Although they provide wireless service from the same source, PE.net and Ultimate offer quite different pricing plans.
Ultimate charges a $150 installation fee and offers monthly service plans ranging from $225 a month for a 384 kilobit per second connection to a little mote than $1,000 a month for 2.5 megabits per second. The company is waiving an additional $200 start-up fee for new subscribers through June.
Ultimate's president, Ray Mouton, said the company's target market is not teenage PC gamers looking for higher speed connections so they can record more kills.
"This is not for home use. It's for businesses with five to a couple hundred workstations," Mouton said. "This is robust stuff. ... You can run a pretty hefty business for 1.5 or 2.5 megabits [per second]."
At PE.net prices range from $149 a month for 512 kilobits per second to $398 a month for 2.5 megabits per second. Start-up costs are about $400, but the company is offering free installation and start-up equipment through June to 1.5 megabit per second and 2.5 megabit per second subscribers.
Paul McAfee, PE.net's news and operations manager, said initial interest in wireless Internet service has been strong, especially in the Haven Avenue corridor area of Ontario that the company is targeting.
"We've gotten many, many calls since we started marketing this and this is a new area for us," he said, adding that PE.net has traditionally provided its dial-up and other Internet connections in Riverside and San Bernardino.
The wireless rates might seem like a lot of money for Internet access in a market where some companies offer dial-up service for free and a high-speed digital subscriber line for about $50 a month, but McAfee said the cost is actually very reasonable for the small to medium businesses that the wireless Internet companies are targeting.
"We charge as much as $1,100 a month for a land line T1," he said. "On wireless broadband, we're selling that same speed for under $300 a month."
McAfee said as long as the big telephone and cable companies continue to drag their feet in providing high speed Internet access to all of the Inland Empire, the market for wireless broadband will continue to expand.
"The spread-out geography of the Inland Empire favors wireless," he said. "And now that we've got wireless systems coming on the market that really do work, we can install and have somebody up and running within three days. It's a really good option."