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Thursday, May 5, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Space Needle a launchpad for "pre-WiMax" service

Seattle Times technology reporter

Speakeasy, the Seattle-based broadband provider, is beaming high-speed Internet access from the top of the Space Needle and four other locations in Seattle to provide its service wirelessly.

The technology is an early version of WiMax, a standard promising to deliver wireless Internet access to large areas — in contrast to the shorter-range Wi-Fi access found in coffeehouses, offices, homes and other locations.

Speakeasy Chief Executive Bruce Chatterley, wearing a harness, made the announcement at the top of the Space Needle yesterday as he walked around the tourist attraction's halo.

The launch yesterday is being called the first deployment of its scope in the United States — both in size and complexity. Using equipment from Intel and Alvarion, the rooftop base stations will be able to provide access in a 5-square-mile area.

Chatterley said Speakeasy chose Seattle as the first site for its pre-WiMax service because the weather, terrain, bodies of water and dense skyline made it one of the most difficult deployments in the country. The lessons learned here should allow Speakeasy to roll out service more easily across the country, he added. The company has 60,000 customers in eight cities and expects revenue of $70 million in 2005.

The service is being sold to business customers as an alternative or backup to a fixed T1 connection, offering speeds of up to 6 megabits per second — about four times faster than residential cable-modem connections. Chatterley said the advantages include quick installation, often within 48 hours, and prices, ranging from $500 to $800 a month, depending on speed.

For comparison, he said fixed-line services can take up to 21 days to install and prices can range from $500 to $6,000 a month.

Faster speeds are becoming more important for companies as they start using up current capacity with services delivered over the Internet, including software and voice calling.

Speakeasy plans to launch the service early next month. It will be available in Belltown, Lower Queen Anne, the downtown core, Pioneer Square and the Lake Union neighborhoods.

The announcement comes as WiMax has started to receive considerable attention. It has also come under criticism as kinks and bugs are worked out and some question how much it can deliver on promises.

Speakeasy is not the only company on the cutting edge of the technology. TowerStream offers some coverage in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston.

And Kirkland-based Clearwire, started by wireless entrepreneur Craig McCaw, has launched precursor WiMax service in Jacksonville, Fla., among other cities. Unlike Speakeasy, Clearwire targets consumers who may not have access to DSL or cable.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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