NEW YORK -- A top networking gear producer plans to offer a speedy new cellular technology that's an alternative to DSL and cable Internet access with the added advantage of being available on the road.
NetGear Inc. is designing a broadband modem for use with a long-range wireless data service called Flash-OFDM that is currently being tried out by Nextel Communications Inc., T-Mobile International, and Vodafone PLC.
The hardware would interconnect Flash-OFDM, which was developed by start-up Flarion Technologies Inc., with personal computers and networks using ethernet or Wi-Fi technology.
NetGear also may develop a card for laptops that would enable mobile access using Flash-OFDM.
The announcement, planned for today, may be a sign that Nextel or another major cellphone company is preparing to move beyond trials to full deployment of the Flarion technology.
Without a commitment from at least one service provider, equipment makers such as NetGear are generally hesitant to invest in launching a product based on a nascent technology.
Otherwise, there would be no use and no customers for the product once it's introduced.
Both NetGear and Flarion officials declined to comment on any potential carrier commitment, though Flarion president Mike Gallagher asserted that "we will have commercial operators in 2005. We'll know soon enough."
Nextel won't discuss any plans for Flarion beyond the current trial in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.
It is no secret, however, that Nextel wants to replace its slowpoke data connection before its coveted legions of high-revenue business users can be lured by fast new services at Verizon Wireless and other rivals.
Coming just a week after Siemens AG of Germany said it will build network equipment based on Flarion technology, the NetGear announcement also may place more pressure on telephone and cable TV companies to enhance their wireless offerings.
Notably, SBC Communications Inc. planned to announce today that its 4.3 million DSL subscribers will be offered free Wi-Fi access at 3,900 hot spots until mid-April, and afterward for just $2 a month.
Meanwhile, the speed and mobility offered by emerging technologies like Flash-OFDM and other robust relatives of Wi-Fi also raise some questions about whether the Bell phone companies may be late with their multibillion-dollar plans to replace copper lines with lightning-quick fiber-optic cables.
Flash-OFDM, which stands for Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, has other attributes beyond speed: It was designed to work well in moving cars and trains while requiring less spectrum than some wireless technologies. But despite the appeal, it's not clear whether the price will be low enough to get consumers and small businesses to cut the cord on their DSL or cable service, which typically costs $30 to $40 for unlimited usage.
The lowest rate Nextel charges for unlimited use of the Flarion service is $50 a month, and that's discounted for the trial from a list price of $60.
And while Flarion, Nextel, and NetGear are positioning Flash-OFDM as a viable alternative to DSL and cable, Verizon Wireless has largely downplayed the notion of relying on its high-speed data service, which uses the EV-DO standard, as a primary Internet connection in a fixed location.
Instead, with $1 billion earmarked for EV-DO deployment, Verizon is positioning its service as a premium product at $80 a month for unlimited use.