Looking to help provide users with more powerful wireless products and services, Proxim Corp. has unveiled a ruggedized version of its Tsunami MP.11 point-to-multipoint base station and software.

The Tsunami MP.11 5054-R model comes with a rugged enclosure that protects against temperature extremes, rain and dust. The radio can create up to 20 non-overlapping channels in three bands in the 5-GHz frequency. The base station still uses Proxim’s proprietary radio. But the system software is being changed to support features found in the WiMAX standard, also known as 802.16-2004. The change is expected to be complete next year, when WiMAX radios become available to replace existing transmitters.

The box uses Proxim’s own routing protocol and other features to sustain bandwidth over long distances. The maximum data rate is 54M bit/sec, but maximum throughput is 34M bit/sec over 1 to 4 miles, according to Ben Gibson, vice president of corporate marketing at Proxim.

The 5054-R model is aimed at corporations, municipalities and service providers that need high-bandwidth wireless capacity over several miles, with a view to migrating these deployments to WiMAX in 2005, according to Gibson.

The base station’s software supports a number of WiMAX features, such as bandwidth provisioning and mobile roaming.

“We’re offering software that enables WiMAX-like applications,” Gibson says. “Our customers can standardize on our platform, and we’ll work with them on a commercial upgrade strategy” to WiMAX.

Analysts say Proxim’s approach shows how fixed wireless vendors are charting a migration path for customers from today’s proprietary radios to radios that support the WiMAX standard.

When WiMAX radios are available, service providers and enterprise users will be able to change the radios without having to change the software. “Even if the hardware changes, the software stays the same and is still familiar,” says Lindsay Schroth, a senior analyst at The Yankee Group.

“It’s a pretty good strategy.”

Schroth says she expects to see such products from Proxim, Varian Inc. and others, in the first wave of certification by the WiMAX Forum early next year.

As Schroth points out, proprietary fixed wireless products have been around for a long time, but without ever becoming a market big enough to challenge other broadband options such as cable or DSL. With the enthusiastic backing of WiMAX Forum members such as Intel, the WiMAX standard will become more important for wireless broadband, especially where a wireline infrastructure is limited or non-existent.

“We’re seeing North American wireless ISPs using this technology to fill in gaps where DSL or cable are not available,” Schroth says. “A standard like WiMAX makes these products cheaper and easier to deploy.”

Starting in 2006 or 2007, Schroth predicts that big carriers such as Sprint Corp. will deploy the mobile version of WiMAX, 802.16e (formerly 16a). WiMAX radios mounted in vehicles or in other client devices will be able to maintain high-bandwidth connections with a surrounding WiMAX radio infrastructure that might supplement a carrier’s cellular network.

The MP.11 Model 5054-R is available now. The base station costs about US$2,000; the subscriber unit is available in two models, one with an integrated antenna priced at about US$1,200, the other with just a Type-N Connector for a third-party antenna priced at about US$1,000.

Proxim also announced the Tsunami QuickBridge II, a wireless outdoor bridge in the 5-GHz band, with throughput up to 36M bit/sec over about 1 mile; and the Tsunami GX 32 and GX 90 point-to-point wireless Ethernet bridges, also in the 5-GHz band. The GX 32, with two Ti/Ei interfaces, supports 16M bit/sec at full-duplex; the GX 90 up to 45M bit/sec. Both have a range of up to 8 miles.

The QuickBridge product costs about US$6,500, or about US$8,000 with two T-1/E-1 interfaces; the GX32 costs about US$7,400; the GX 90 costs about US$11,400.