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Cisco looks to jump-start wireless Net market

The networking equipment giant is looking to spark the nascent business by culling support for a proposed technology standard to boost the development of new wireless networks.

Cisco Systems isn't waiting for the wireless Internet market to come to it--it's coming to the market.

The networking equipment giant is looking to jump-start a nascent business by culling interest and support from a wide array of partners for a proposed technology standard, ideally helping in the development of new wireless networks. A standard is a kind of industrywide blueprint for a given product, agreed upon to ensure products made by different companies are interchangeable for end users.

The firm also plans to unveil new products based on the still-developing technology by the end of this year, according to company executives.

The San Jose, California-based firm, which reported revenues of $12.15 billion in its most recent fiscal year, aims to tackle a niche that has not been one of its strengths. But an early indication of Cisco's interest in voice, video, and data communications over high-speed wireless technology came from a Net-focused wireless alliance with Motorola that debuted in February.

"We're trying to speed up the market for this technology," said Steve Smith, director of marketing for Cisco's broadband wireless division.

In its latest initiative, Cisco has enlisted the help of component providers such as Broadcom and Texas Instruments, consultants EDS and KPMG, and equipment providers Motorola, Toshiba, and Samsung. The goal is to develop use of a high-speed standard for a fixed wireless technology called Vector Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, or VOFDM, according to company executives.

The VOFDM standard was created from technology Cisco acquired last year when it bought Clarity Wireless for $157 million in stock. It is intended to complement or provide an alternative to land-based cable or digital subscriber lines (DSL) for service providers.

But some analysts view Cisco's plans as too ambitious for a company that has not yet dedicated much time and energy to the wireless market.

"It's amazing how Cisco can call things a standard," said Eddie Hold, senior analyst for wireless services with market watcher Current Analysis. "They need to get backing from companies like Nortel Networks and Lucent Technologies before they can call it a standard." Nortel and Lucent are some of Cisco's most significant competitors in the networking market.

Cisco said the technology could prove useful in areas where there aren't any existing high-speed networks. For example, a company such as cable-based Net access provider Excite@Home could use the technology to connect its cable equipment to its "backbone" network in certain areas, according to executives.

"Wireless is the next big thing in the U.S.," Hold said. "As soon as you hit that magic word 'Internet' all the infrastructure [players] want in."

The Cisco standard essentially aspires to provide a common means to deliver voice and data traffic using wireless as an alternative to other emerging high-speed, or broadband, technologies like cable and digital subscriber lines (DSL). Potential targets are homes and businesses, particularly those found in congested urban areas, according to third-party participants in the effort.

"In this space, there currently isn't a known standard," said Gregg Lowe, vice president of chip design for Texas Instruments. "[The proposed standard] gives us a better feel that this is going to be adopted in the marketplace."

Other companies interested in deploying technology similar to Cisco's include Sprint, MCI WorldCom, and BellSouth, executives said.

Smith said Cisco plans to provide wireless equipment for business offices and for communications companies.