BellSouth Corp. said on Monday it is looking at emerging wireless technology Wi-Max as a way to more cheaply provide high-speed Web services in areas where its wired network is slow or has been damaged.
BellSouth, which recently agreed to be sold to AT&T Inc., already sells city-wide wireless broadband services in five markets including New Orleans using a proprietary technology. It is looking at Wi-Max to lower costs and expand its subscriber base.
The No. 3 U.S. regional provider plans to test Wi-Max equipment in its labs in the coming months and expects to run a live network trial in the second half of the year. It said it has not yet decided whose equipment it would use for the tests.
Wi-Max, designed to blanket whole cities with high-speed wireless services, is expected to provide an improvement to Wi-Fi, the dominant wireless technology used in laptops today, which is confined mostly to places like coffee shops.
Coming into hurricane season, BellSouth is also starting to push its existing wireless service as a backup option to help businesses maintain data links between offices if services on the wired network are disrupted.
BellSouth, operating in nine southeastern states, used wireless technology last year to help provide communications in New Orleans after hurricane floods drenched the city's wired networks.
"There's a higher level of customer interest in these solutions based on the hurricanes," said Michael Bowling, vice president for development at BellSouth.
BellSouth, which offers wired high-speed Internet services to 84 percent of households in its service area, could also use Wi-Max to offer fast Web services to customers in areas where it has not upgraded its wired network for high-speeds.