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Ben Charny

Staff Writer, CNET

AT&T has 8.5 billion reasons to embrace super-speedy WiMax wireless technology, says the carrier’s chief technology officer.

8.5 billion is the dollar amount that AT&T pays other telephone companies for access to their networks, thus allowing AT&T to provide communications services to customers.

Now AT&T has joined the growing number of carriers wowed by WiMax, radio technology that promises to deliver two-way Internet access at speeds of up to 75 megabits per second at long range. What has AT&T and others excited is how much WiMax costs to start up. Typically, it takes $1,500 to lay underground fiber to a single home; with WiMax, it’s $75.

On top of a WiMax network, carriers could use voice over Internet Protocol technology to sell telephone services that are much cheaper than what traditional phone companies offer, he said at the just-concluded Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco.

“We spent $8.5 billion on local access last year,” CTO Hossein Eslambolchi said. “I’m going to find any way I can to bypass that as fast as we can.”

At the same conference, Charles Hoffman, CEO of broadband upstart Covad, said his company is now testing WiMax equipment from different vendors and has the same intentions at rival AT&T. Covad has already tested a WiMax service in the Kentucky area, he noted.

“We’re looking at a 2005 rollout for a commercial service,” said Hoffman.

But the plans may prove to be a bit ambitious. Scott Richardson, general manager of Intel’s Broadband Wireless Group, said recently that WiMax will be integrated into notebooks by 2006, and in handsets by 2007.