By KEN BELSON
Jeff Thompson may be afraid of heights, but he appears to be at home
on the 81st-floor terrace of the Empire State Building.
Overlooking the 1,000-foot drop, Mr. Thompson said he saw the entire
New York metropolitan area as the battleground where his company,
TowerStream, will challenge phone companies for high-speed Internet
business customers by delivering fast, cheap service without digging
up streets to install cables.
Next to him, a TowerStream antenna, perched on the parapet, beamed
high-powered wireless Internet connections to companies several miles
away. This kind of aerial system, many technology experts say, could
uncork the most nettlesome bottleneck in the telecommunications
industry: the phone companies' control of the "last mile" of wire that
travels from their switching stations to homes and offices.
"We're competing against the Bells," Mr. Thompson said, "so we have
to work quickly." Waving his arm toward the blaze of buildings and
potential customers below, he said with a laugh, "This is when I get
excited by heights."
With 700 customers in five cities, TowerStream is the most active
player in an emerging industry that sells a technology known as WiMax,
or worldwide interoperability for microwave access. Unlike WiFi, the
radio wave technology in airports and cafes that allows users to log
on to the Internet from their laptop computers within 150 feet of an
antenna, WiMax delivers broadband Internet connections through fixed
antennas that send and receive signals across entire cities.