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Cisco to unveil new wireless strategy

The networking equipment leader plans to articulate its strategy to enter the market for fixed wireless communications hardware this week.

Networking equipment leader Cisco Systems plans to articulate its strategy to enter the wireless communications market this week.

As previously reported, the largest data networking equipment provider originally announced its intentions to enter the fixed wireless market in October.

At that time, Cisco enlisted the help of component providers such as Broadcom and Texas Instruments, equipment makers like Motorola, Toshiba and Samsung, as well as third-party consultants like EDS and KPMG to push a standard for the nascent wireless Internet market.

Fixed wireless technology uses a small dish, similar to satellite TV dishes, to transmit and receive data signals. Although the hardware in the past has been used to transmit television signals, Cisco and other firms are looking to use the technology to shuttle voice and Internet data traffic.

The spread of fixed wireless technology could be useful in congested downtown areas or in rural communities that don't have access to high-speed alternatives such as cable or digital subscriber line (DSL) services, according to the company.

Cisco said it plans to discuss product details for the wireless market when it updates the financial community on its strategy in Santa Clara, Calif., on Wednesday.

The company plans to release hardware for the business market, including a dish and a connecting "card" technology that links to Cisco's routing devices, by the end of this year. Those plans were publicly disclosed at the Comdex computer trade show in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Cisco has made a series of moves to make its way into the wireless market. It enlisted wireless equipment giant Motorola in February to spur development of Net-based wireless technologies. Separately, Cisco purchased Aironet Wireless Communications last month for nearly $800 million to acquire technology for local area network (LAN) wireless connections.

Wireless data networking technology, unlike cellular phone technology, has so far gained little acceptance in the market due to concerns over reliability and cost. But some analysts believe that the market may be ready for the new technology, although it still may be some time before large-scale projects for wireless data are adopted.

"There's a lot of opportunity there," said Jeremy Duke, president of industry consultants Synergy Research Group. "The question is: When is the rubber going to hit the road?"

Cisco's fixed wireless strategy is largely based on technology it acquired from Clarity Wireless last year.

Through that purchase, Cisco gained access to high-speed fixed wireless technology based on Vector Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, or VOFDM. It is intended to complement or provide an alternative to land-based cable or digital subscriber lines (DSL) for service providers.

The technology works with unlicensed wireless frequency bands as well as the wireless frequency spectrum known as multichannel multipoint distribution services, or MMDS. That technology offers far more bandwidth than ordinary wireless connections, allowing video feeds and telephone service, in addition to Internet connections of up to 10 mbps.

Customers Excite@Home and City Telecom Hong Kong are in trials with the VOFDM-based fixed wireless technology, looking to market the services to people who don't have access to any other high-speed Internet connection technologies.

Others companies interested in the technology include Sprint, MCI WorldCom and BellSouth, according to Cisco.

Cisco plans to tackle the consumer market next year, with plans for fixed wireless dishes priced at less than $500, according to a Cisco spokesman.