TDS launches WIMAX in Madison, Wis.


Independent telco TDS Telecom announced it is rolling out commercial high-speed Internet and VoIP service to portions of Madison, Wis., covering about 65,000 residential and business customers. The TDS launch could be closely watched by other small telcos looking for broadband alternatives in competitive markets.

Dave Wittwer, president and CEO of TDS Telecommunications Corp., said on a conference call from Madison this morning that WiMAX will now be the telco's lead technology in serving the voice and data needs of the customers in this area. He added that the company has been testing WiMAX for the last 10 months, providing service to 40 of its own employees living in the coverage area. The 65,000 customers under TDS' launch coverage include 55,000 residences and 10,000 businesses.

The company is using WiMAX gear from Alvarion, including the vendor's 802.16e 4Motion portfolio. At this point, TDS' effort is a fixed WiMAX roll-out, but Witwer said, "We will support mobility at some point in time. We're in a position to take any future direction we want. Right now, we are strategically launching this product to help more customers gain access to broadband services, many that TDS cannot reach today with our traditional DSL offering."

Patrick Leary, assistant vice president of marketing at Alvarion, said the significance of the launch shouldn't be overlooked, as it is "the first commercial WiMAX launch in North America supporting both high-speed data and VoIP from the start." That may be essentially true, though fellow Wisconsin service provider Chibardun Telephone Cooperative offers a WiMAX-like network supporting VoIP and data in the 700 Mhz band. Also, Iowa ISP Quad-Cities Online also has a 2.5 Ghz WiMAX network.

TDS is starting with six towers deployed on the east and west sides of Madison, out-fitted to operate WiMAX-based services at 2.5 Ghz, but will add the capability to two more towers by the end of February. The company intentionally isn't deploying in the Isthmus, the center of Madison, because it is an "urban canyon" not well-suited to WiMAX and TDS' strategic interests.

Customers will be able to purchase service plans with speeds up to 6 Mbps, and businesses will can get rates up to 4 Mbps.