JACKSON — There is only one Internet. Whether in Philadelphia, Miss., or Philadelphia, Pa., the information on the Web is the same. However, access to the Internet is another story. It varies greatly. First, users are at the mercy of their telephone company’s technology on just how much bandwidth and speed is available to them. Second, because their computer is plugged into the wall, they can only go as far as the cable will stretch. It’s like a leash.
The best possible scenario would be broadband Internet access without using the phone company’s equipment, disconnecting users from the phone jack and offering freedom of movement as well as high-speed connectivity.
Does that technology exist anywhere in Mississippi? Yes.
Last week, Air2Lan of Jackson celebrated the commercial launching of its new, high-speed wireless Internet access service.
“We are extremely excited about the launching,” said Jai P. Bhaget, chairman and chief executive officer of Air2Lan. “I say ‘we’ because it has required a lot of hard work by our entire team.”
Though state-of-the-art, the new Air2Lan service’s ingenuity is in its simplicity. The company’s system currently employs four antennae in the Metro Jackson area — at Capital Towers in downtown Jackson, Banner Hall on Interstate 55, the Hilton Hotel on County Line Road and the Air2Lan Towers (also the home of the corporate offices) on Lelia Drive one block south of Lakeland Drive. Those four sites cover the metro area like an umbrella.
On the customer’s end, a small six-inch by six-inch antenna is installed. A small PC card that contains a tiny antenna is then inserted into any microcomputer, laptop or other appliance. Users may then get as far away as between 400-600 feet from the main remote antenna and still enjoy connectivity. Thus, they can go to the boardroom for a meeting or go sit out by the pool at home and still send and receive e-mails or surf the Web.
In addition to freedom of movement, the system offers other advantages. Because its broadband, Air2Lan provides connections up to 30 times faster than standard dial-up modems — up to two megabits per second for data coming in and going out. The service also offers hot connections (continuos connectivity without having to log on with each use), multiple connections for office plazas, apartment complexes, etc. and instant e-mail notification.
In addition, because the technology is only about access, users can use existing hardware and software to utilize the system.
Air2Lan’s Jef Judin said when people see the new service, it sells itself.
“Charlie Abrams (manager of Hal and Mal’s in Jackson, one of 16 customers used to beta test the system) had his laptop out trying out our system, and a big crowd gathered around him,” he said. “They all started saying, ‘I’ve got to have that.’ The technology really is exciting.”
ROLL `EM OUT
It was only last October when Air2Lan began developing and testing its system. However, the company already has bigger plans for the immediate future. Bhaget, who spent 20 years at Skytel before forming Air2Lan, said the company will be deploying in Dallas, Texas and Hattiesburg within the next 90 days. He said the company’s objective is to test the system in a large and medium market before rolling out to other markets. The company will then begin deploying in smaller Mississippi communities such as Vicksburg and beyond, with plans to deploy in three or four markets per quarter. He said the company’s goal is to be in every major market in the U.S. in the next three years.
That sounds ambitious, but Air2Lan also enjoys benefits from its system. Because its not pole-to-pole technology, the company can build out without having to string wire across areas it is not serving. There is also no trenching and tearing up of streets and no property rights to be obtained. And that all equates to much lower build-out costs and headaches.
That also means more employees. Currently employing 22 people, Bhaget said Air2Lan should have between 35-40 on its payroll by the end of this year in Jackson. And that doesn’t take into account employees who will be needed in Dallas, Hattiesburg, and the other markets Air2Lan is looking to serve.
Bhaget said, while the launch and talk of entering large markets throughout the country is exciting, he hasn’t forgotten where the company is at now.
“Most of the investors in the company are local people, local money,” he said. “They have put a lot of faith in us. These are people I see at the supermarket. So, I feel a lot of pressure to perform, to be the best company possible and justify the faith they have shown in us.
“We want to have the market share, the branding, the respect that companies like AOL enjoy. We want to be the AOL of Internet access.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1016.