Businesses and government users are embracing Verizon Wireless' 3G BroadbandAccess service.

Introduced a year and a half ago and the first 1x EV-DO broadband wireless service in North America, Broadband-Access delivers typical download rates between 300 kb/s to 500 kb/s with burst speeds of up to 2 Mb/s, putting it in the speed range of wireline alternatives such as cable or DSL.

Upload speeds are asymmetric at around 50 kb/s to 70 kb/s. The service operates beside Verizon Wireless' existing cellular phone network, so any user who can get a cell phone signal also can access the data network.

Verizon officials aren't talking about the number of corporate customers that have signed up so far, but they're extremely happy with the demand.

“It's been beyond our expectations,” said Bruce Simon, associate director of advanced technologies for Verizon Wireless. “It's why we've expanded [our network coverage] a little more aggressively than we originally planned.”

Independent analysts agree. “Verizon is usually pretty cautious,” said Jane Zweig, CEO of The Shosteck Group. “They wouldn't be spending what they're spending if they didn't see the results. Certainly, Verizon's success has caused their competitors to react.”

Both Cingular and Sprint have announced plans to launch similar broadband services by the end of 2005.

American Capital, a publicly traded buyout and mezzanine fund with more than $4 billion in managed investments, has embraced the technology with open arms. “American Capital invests over $1.5 billion a year in over 50 private companies,” said CEO Malon Wilkus. “Having up-to-the-minute information and financial data on these investment opportunities is a clear competitive advantage for us. Wireless data access provides American Capital with that up-to-the-minute information.”

Senior executives at American Capital access the service by inserting a 1x EV-DO card into their laptop computers along with some accompanying software. Once operational, they have access to all of the applications available at the office — including e-mail, Internet access and customer relation management (CRM) applications behind the corporate firewall — from any location using Verizon Wireless cellular service. If high-speed 1x EV-DO service isn't available, the PC card falls back to Verizon Wireless' slower 50 kb/s to 70 kb/s 1xRTT service, so connectivity is still available.

American Capital's executives frequently travel to meet with investors and potential companies in which to invest. Wilkus notes that travel time is “time better spent” because Verizon's BroadbandAccess service enables him to work at the airport, on the train or in a cab.

“Principals spend 10 to 15 percent of their time in plans, cabs and airports,” Wilkus said. “In the past, principals could be productive for only 50 percent of this time, and now they can be productive up to 90 percent of the time. Consequently, they tend to be working on more timely projects as well, which is an added benefit.”

One of the more attractive advantages of the high-speed service is the ability to access it from nearly anywhere in Verizon's coverage area.

“I can work in the park when my kids are on the playground,” said Andrei Kilachko, American Capital's chief technical officer. “I can connect on the road when I'm in the passenger's seat of our minivan to check on the server and the health of the IT infrastructure. And I'm able to do this while the car is traveling at 55 miles per hour.”

With wireless coverage available along the Amtrak route from Washington to New York City, company personnel are opting to take the train rather than an airplane so they can work on the move.

Kilachko also pointed to the potential cost savings and security enhancements that can be realized through the use of 1x EV-DO to replace home connectivity. Many senior analyst and principals currently access corporate information through home desktops, so the IT department must manage and support different wireline access methods. Migrating them from different desktop solutions onto laptops using a standardized plug-and-play EV-DO solution is expected to minimize remote access support costs. Security will be enhanced because the underlying CDMA technology incorporates spread-spectrum techniques, and all data traveling through the network will be encapsulated using virtual private network (VPN) clients.

EV-DO has other security advantages as well. “Unlike 802.11, where there are lots of open devices floating around, it's a different technology,” said Peter Jarich, a principal at Current Analysis, an analyst firm covering wireless technology. “It's like breaking into a person's handset. As with any technology as times goes by, you will see people hack into new devices, but since [EV-DO] is a carrier-based network, there's going to be a much different focus on security” compared with existing Wi-Fi networks. “[Cellular carriers] are going to make sure those networks are secure.”

Running the water and sewer system for two populous Maryland counties may not be as exciting as investment banking, but Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) also has tapped into Verizon's BroadbandAccess service. Operating one of the 10 largest water and wastewater utilities in the country, the agency serves nearly a 1000-square-mile area with 1.6 million people and employs a staff of more than 1500 people to service, inspect and repair water and sewer lines throughout Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

WSSC has migrated from using 19.2 kb/s cellular digital packet data (CDPD) service to Verizon's 1xEV-DO service.

“When we found out CDPD was going away, we tested solutions from a number of vendors as replacements,” said George Shambley, telecommunications supervisor in WSSC's telecommunications and network group. “Quite frankly, everyone was lacking except for Verizon. We were impressed with Verizon's 1xRTT card. EV-DO was better.”

Six months ago, the utility issued Dell laptops equipped with 1x EV-DO cards to inspectors and service supervisors traveling out in the field to track work orders and pull up GIS maps on site through a Web browser.

“The map will give them an idea of the pipe route to within a few feet, pipe sizes, valves and shut-off points,” Shambley said. “To be honest with you, people weren't trying to use the Web map application because it took too long to download a map [using CDPD]. They carried around a map book.”

Use of the service has allowed WSSC to streamline inspections operation from two to three days down to a single day and is delivering additional benefits as well.

“EV-DO works so well, [our staff] is using it as a communications device with e-mail,” Shambley said. “We don't have [instant messaging] chat set up yet, but our techs out in the field can send e-mails from their trucks, and supervisors e-mail them right back.”

Currently, 75 users are set up with the wireless broadband solution, and another 125 will be added in the near future. “It's not really a cheaper solution, but what makes it better than some of the other devices we looked at was the speed and coverage,” Shambley said. “Coverage was the primary push, and having the speed was even better. With the EV-DO card with a laptop in a truck, you're pulling up Web apps, maps, work orders. It's similar to speeds on the desktop. … CDPD took minutes, now it takes moments.”

About the only problem Shambley has run into was an inventory issue. “We had supervisors test [EV-DO] throughout their service area. We had to fight with them to get the cards back [to Verizon] and promise them they'd see them again,” Shambley said.

While Verizon Wireless currently offers the only wireless high-speed broadband service in North America, it won't be alone for long.

“Verizon will definitely have competition by the end of the year,” Current Analysis' Jarich said. “Sprint has committed to go forward with [EV-]DO. They want to get the [Nextel] push-to-talk solution moved over to EV-DO.” Zweig said Cingular's wideband CDMA offering “should be comparable if one can believe the press releases, but it isn't out yet.”

Competitors will have significant challenges, however. “[Verizon Wireless has] done a pretty good job of going out there and setting the bar high in terms of service quality and a data solution,” Jarich said.

Verizon Wireless also is planning to move from the baseline EV-DO standard to a faster Revision A standard in the future. Revision A is expected to deliver download burst rates of up to 3 Mb/s and upload burst rates of up to 1.8 Mb/s.

“We haven't released a timeline on that, but that's what's coming,” Simon said. “Speeds will improve, and service will be more synchronous.”

A jargon key to EV-DO deployment:

AAA: Authentication, accounting and administration server

A10: CDMA2000 signal protocols that include GRE (generic routing encapsulation), IP, PPP

A11: CDMA2000 signaling protocols that include UDP, IP, PPP and Mobile IP

A12: CDMA2000 signaling protocols that include RADIUS security, UDP, IP, PPP

BTS: Base transceiver system

DCS: Data collection system

DO RNC: Data-only radio network controller

ECP: Executive cellular processor

HLR: Home locator register

OA&M Network: Operations, administration and management

OMP FX: Lucent's Flexent operations and management platform

OMC-RAN: Operations and maintenance center — radio access network

PCF: Packet control function

PDSN: Packet data serving node

RCS-AP: Radio controller subsystem — application processor

RNC-AP: Radio network control-application processor

RNC cPSB: Radio network control — CompactPCI packet-switching backplane

SMS: Subscriber management server

Watchmark - Configuration and management server for CDMA wireless networks