Motorola rolls out WiMAX gateway for desktop PCs

Though it was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, Motorola Inc.’s latest WiMAX hardware is aimed at business users who don’t have high-speed Internet access, according to one executive the Schaumberg, Ill.-based wireless equipment maker.

The CPEi 100 customer premise equipment, which meets the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.16e standard, is scheduled to ship to service providers some time this year. The device is basically a gateway that sends and receives data over the 2.5 GHz band and connects to a PC with an RJ-45 Ethernet port, said Ashish Dayama, senior marketing manager for global marketing and solutions and Motorola. Dayama would not say whether Motorola has any customers lined up.

“We think it will initially be hugely popular in the business market,” Dayama said, because it lets users connect to the Internet from any location in range of their service provider’s base station.

The CPEi 100 is part of Motorola’s MOTOwi4 product group. Other products from the same group are being used by Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc., a Toronto-based carrier, in its WiMAX trials in Toronto.

Primus, through subsidiary Mipps Inc., announced last year it would conduct trials of WiMax in Toronto and Hamilton using 3.5 GHz spectrum.

Primus officials did not return calls as of press time, but Primus and Mipps officials told Network World Canada in October they were finding inconsistencies in the performance of the wireless equipment.

WiMAX, which stands for Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Access, is designed to allow transfer rates of up to 40 Mbps per channel over a wide-area wireless network, with cell radii of three to 10 km, though actual transfer rates for individual users are expected to be much lower.

WiMAX service should be attractive to small businesses, said Craig Mathias, principal of the Farpoint Group, an Ashland, Mass.-based market research firm.

“I don’t think larger businesses will adopt it right away because they would have to buy subscriber units and all that,” Mathias said. “With larger enterprises, once they’ve done the evaluation, they understand security, administration, management, they’ve done the cost analysis and all of that, then they’d certainly consider WiMAX as well.”

Matthias predicts other wireless equipment manufacturers will also release products similar to Motorola’s CPEi 100.

“You’ll see all kinds of those over the next few years, that model of acting as a gateway, something you can plug into a PC or into a router in place of a wireline connection,” he said. “You’ll see lots and lots of those.”

But for businesses, an outdoor antenna is even better than an indoor gateway, said Monica Paolini, president of Senza Fili Consulting LLC of Sammamish, Wash.

“If you can have an outdoor antenna, you get better performance,” she said. “For some businesses it makes sense to spend an initial $200 more and have better performance all the time.”

Paolini added WiMAX should be popular among businesses with offices in areas that aren’t served by either cable, digital subscriber line (DSL) or fibre.

“If you think about the type of businesses for which fibre is not available or too expensive, often times that market segment is under-served,” Paolini said. “If you have a wireless technology, it could be WiMAX or could be anything else, often times it’s easier. The business users can just buy the modem and have it going. It’s much faster, so in a lot of situations, that’s a very big plus.”

WiMAX transmits data without requiring clients to have line-of-sight with the base station. According to the WiMAX Forum, an industry consortium of nearly 500 vendors that tests and certifies hardware for interoperability, the non-line-of-sight feature means operators require fewer base stations, shorter towers and less time to install customer premise equipment.

“It gives you deep indoor penetration,” Dayama said. “When you put this device in your home or business, you don’t need to put it near window.” But the deployment of WiMAX so far has been “spotty,” Matthias said.

Although Sprint Nextel Corp. of Reston, Va. and Las Vegas-based Clearwire Corp. inked an agreement last July to build a WiMAX network in the U.S., the deal was called off in November.

“WiMAX is going to have a very slow rollout during this year and keep in mind that WiMAX is competitive with other wide area broadband offerings, primarily from the cellular carriers,” Mathias said. “My feeling is WiMAX is going to do much better is less developed economies than in industrialized economies”

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