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Juniper packs Wi-Fi hot spot in a box

The company's upcoming bundle of gear for setting up wireless access in public locations promises to cost broadband providers and phone carriers less than half what they pay now.

Juniper Networks is getting ready to launch a low-price wireless "hot spot" bundle, hoping to take a bite out of Cisco Systems' lead in the lucrative market for Wi-Fi network gear.

In a few weeks, customers of the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company can buy a "hot spot in a box" bundle, targeted at telephone, broadband and cell phone service providers that offer public Wi-Fi access. The $800 package, sold by partner Colubris Networks, includes all the hardware, software and technical know-how necessary to build a subscription wireless network inside a single cafe, hotel or restaurant.

Cisco and other rivals usually charge about $2,000 per location for gear, said Christopher Komatas, a Juniper product manager.

Competition is heating up to sell networking equipment to U.S.-based broadband providers, cell phone carriers and telephone companies that are trying to capitalize on the growing popularity of Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi networks create a 300-foot zone where laptops can wirelessly connect to the Web or to a corporate computer network.

Carriers spent about $500 million last year on Wi-Fi equipment to add hot spots to their networks, forced into action by the success of a new breed of wireless providers--such as Boingo Wireless--that stitch together subscription Wi-Fi networks.

Cisco Systems has led in sales of Wi-Fi access points and networking equipment to these customers, with Juniper staying out of the market until now. A Cisco representative would not comment on this report.

Juniper hopes to make a splash in the market by offering a Wi-Fi access bundle at half the price typically paid. The package, which includes the company's own SDX-300 Service Deployment System and access points from Colubris, uses one less piece of gear--the "gateway"--than competing systems and costs less, Komatas said.

Carriers that build a Wi-Fi network usually need to add an electronic gateway at each public location to check that people logging onto the network are authorized. For the upcoming bundle, Juniper has added these gateway functions to its E-series line of telephone network equipment, which is currently used by Korea Telecom, Australia's Telstra and NTT Communications in Japan, among other carriers.

Major telephone and broadband providers are expected to spend even more on building Wi-Fi networks in coming years, despite the ongoing worldwide economic malaise, said Jim Ciociolo, vice president of Colubris Networks, the co-developer with Juniper of the hot-spot-in-a-box bundle.

"Big guys, like Verizon (Communications), are saying, 'I'm not going to lose to these little ISPs (Internet service providers),'" Colubris Vice President Jim Ciociolo said.