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Start-up Flarion ropes in big telecom players

Up until recently, Flarion's wireless gear appealed primarily to cell phone companies, but that's all changing.

Old-time phone companies are showing interest in Flarion Technologies, a wireless broadband equipment start-up that's battling for business alongside Qualcomm and other communications giants.

Up until recently, Flarion's customers only consisted of cell phone service providers, including Nextel Communications and SK Telecom, which use the gear to sell broadband in areas overlooked by cable or DSL (digital subscriber line) providers.

But that's changing, Flarion Vice President Ronny Haraldsvik said in a recent interview. "Full service" communications companies are beginning to sign on. For instance, Australia's Telstra, which sells cell phones and voice minutes, plus broadband by satellite, Wi-Fi hot spots, cable and DSL, will conduct a technical trial of Flarion's gear, Haraldsvik said.

A major European telephone and broadband company also has agreed to test the equipment, but Haraldsvik didn't provide additional details.

Flarion's technology is part of a new generation of wireless gear trying to solve the problem of getting phone service and broadband to areas too expensive to install copper, cable or DSL lines. While relatively inexpensive to launch, wireless technologies such as Flarion's, WiMax or 3G (third generation) cell phone networks aren't as reliable as voice calls or broadband over a wired connection.

Between the three, WiMax leads in speed but lags in commercial development. WiMax networks, in theory, create connections of up to 2 megabits per second, while Flarion users, including Nextel Wireless Broadband subscribers, download at about 1.5 megabits per second and upload at 375 kilobits per second (kbps).

3G cell phone technology, made by Qualcomm and others, is the slowest of the three, but the most reliable for now. Verizon Wireless' BroadbandAccess service, based on Qualcomm's 3G cell phone technology, downloads at 300kbps to 500kbps, while uploading averages about 40kbps to 60kbps.