Juneau chosen for new Internet service launch

AT&T offers latest broadband access

Posted: Monday, August 06, 2007

There is a new option in Juneau's Internet offerings. It's called WiMAX, and it offers unbundled, unlimited highspeed Internet access without cable or DSL.

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"It's WiFi on steroids," said Chris Brown, spokesman for Alascom.

Alascom rolled out the new microwave-based system in Juneau last month, as the first commercial WiMAX offering in a statewide system.

Brown said Alascom chose Juneau for its population density in three locations. The rest of the state can expect service soon, he said.

The new system offers transmission up to 1 megabyte per second through a series of microwave towers that deliver data in downtown, Douglas, the Mendenhall Valley and Lena Point. Downloads are unlimited. WiMAX comes without a contract in three progressive speeds up to 1 megabyte per second.

The WiMAX user plugs a small box into a wall and socket and then pushes a button, Brown said.

"The user experience is compared to DSL or cable" and is affordable," he said. The in-home connection is left to the customer, either wireless router or ethernet.

As long as the WiMAX receiver is within range of a tower, the Internet will flow.

Bud White manages the Radio Shack in Nugget Mall. System reliability is his priority at his electronics store.

"We certainly struggle with it," White said.

His store uses one of the traditional three methods of Internet delivery, cable, DSL, or satellite. Juneau companies offering these services couldn't be reached for comment Saturday.

Pat Pennoyer lives in the Mendenhall Valley and builds Web pages. His home connection is used to launch Web pages, download music and watch video. Pennoyer pays about $39 each month for Internet with the same company. Service at that monthly rate is limited to maximum download limit of 5 gigabites a month - about six episodes of a prime-time cable series. Beyond overage fees, Pennoyer said his primary concern with any service is system reliability.

His interest in a new provider rides on "cost and reliance," he said.

Alascom tested the system in Petersburg before the Juneau launch.

Alascom technicians drove a trailer through service areas testing the signal. Brown said that unlike cable and DSL, the WiMAX signal can slow as the signal passes through dense vegetation or buildings. Otherwise the distance a WiMAX signal is only limited by physics, Brown said.

"I want it fast, and I want it to work all the time," Nora Snow said. She lives on Douglas Island and uses the Internet at home to shop, bank and send e-mail. "It would be nice if were cheaper," she said. Snow's Internet comes in a high-dollar bundle of telecommunications.

Downtown and Douglas have good reception, Cathy Opinsky, AT&T spokesperson, said. AT&T is the parent company of Alascom.

A technical jump that comes with the WiMAX system is in mobility. Unlike cable, DSL WiMAX is mobile within any coverage area. Use the same box at work, home or a friends house. A Juneau receiver will work in Douglas now, or Anchorage next year.

Brown said they also chose Juneau as a launch site for its access to a uniquely mobile demographic.

"We'd love to see legislators use WiMAX in Juneau and then carry it home," he said.

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2268 or greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.

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