Motorola continues to raid its products bin for announcements for the Consumer Electronics Show. This time with the 'news' of a new device that combines a WiMax modem with an integrated Wi-Fi router, but in a much slimmer form factor compared to the previous model.
The wi4 WiMax CPEi 775 features a WiMax 802.16e modem with an integrated Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g router. It also comes with an Ethernet port, plus and two jacks for voice-over-IP (VoIP) calling.
The way it works is that the WiMax modem connects to a WiMax network. Users can then connect to it in three ways, via the built-in Ethernet port, via any Wi-Fi b/g enabled-device, or by plugging in any regular telephone into one of the two voice ports (of course, the service provider would have to support this feature).
The CPEi 775, according to Motorola, does not need to be rotated for optimal signal strength which allows for "plug-and-play installation." The device also features over-the-air software upgrade capabilities. The CPEi 775 is available in the 3.5GHz band, with support for the 5MHz, 7MHz, and 10 MHz bandwidths.
Adding Wi-Fi to a WiMax router is nothing particularly startling though. Indeed others, such as Airspan, have had this capability for a while now. But Motorola claims its device is the first combined WiMax/Wi-Fi device that "packs all this functionality into a sleek form factor." It says previous devices of this type involved either external antennas or resulted in large bulky devices "because of the complexities of putting both a WiMax radio and Wi-Fi radio in one device."
"If not managed carefully, interference between WiMax and Wi-Fi in the CPE can degrade the performance on a service provider's entire WiMax network, increasing their total cost of ownership," Motorola warned in an email.
The CPEi 775 is in fact Motorola's second attempt at a combined WiMax/Wi-Fi unit. The first was the CPEi 850, and Motorola claims to have improved on that device in form factor and antenna technology.
Motorola is not selling this device to end-users, but rather its WiMax CPE products are being sold to its service provider customers. Indeed, this device seems mostly destined for the US market, where Sprint Nextel and Clearwire have teamed up to roll out WiMax in the US (most recently a WiMax network has appeared in the city of Portland, following on from Baltimore).
Some argue that WiMax faces an uncertain future considering the popularity of mobile broadband. Indeed, Infonetics Research warned last month that the market for WiMax is set to decline in 2009, as mobile WiMax is hit both by the economic squeeze and competition from the LTE standard.
In the UK meanwhile, BT has previously hinted that it may consider a WiMax move, but in reality there are only two companies at present that have licences to use spectrum useable for WiMax. These are Freedom4 (formerly Pipex Wireless) and PCCW (via UK Broadband).
And Graham Currier, Chief Operating Officer at Freedom4 warns that the popularity of mobile broadband is misleading. "Where is the capacity of mobile broadband coming from? It simply isn't there," he said. "The minute you get contention, you don't get any data, you get squeezed by voice."
"Tell me where the capacity is for this network, then we have a debate," he said. "Someone has to put capacity into the UK, and at the moment WiMax is the best candidate."
Motorola meanwhile told Techworld that it still believes in both WiMax and LTE, and sees them as each meeting the needs of different market segments. "We continue to see a lively WiMax product ecosystem and community of service providers finding value in deploying WiMax networks," it said.
"Motorola is also committed to LTE, sees LTE as the 4G technology choice for the majority of existing mobile operators, and will be one of the first vendors to offer a commercial LTE infrastructure solution in the 2nd half of 2009," it added.