Networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. has devised an alternative method of providing high-speed wireless Internet access that will be available to businesses early next year and could be open to consumers by the end of 2000, as Cisco joins the race with telephone and cable companies to connect customers to the Internet.
The Cisco system is designed to be used with fixed, and not mobile, receivers and transmitters. But its high speed, ease of installation and relatively low cost could make Cisco's "Broadband Fixed Wireless" a formidable rival with phone and cable systems that already offer high-speed Internet connections.
"It all depends very much on acceptance and on how successful Cisco is in getting this into production," said Dale Pfau, managing director of equity research for CIBC World Markets in San Francisco. "But it's a very, very attractive alternative."
Cisco's system hinges on a new technology that gets around the problem of transmissions being blocked by buildings or other obstructions by using reflections of the signal to help improve reception.
These reflected signals, which cause ghosting in television images and other forms of interference--have been a decades-old problem for radio engineers. But Cisco has turned the echoes to their advantage, using them as extra pathways to snake around obstructions.
To help speed acceptance of its new technology, San Jose-based Cisco has decided to give away its design to other companies. Motorola Inc., Toshiba Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and others have already agreed to produce fixed wireless systems using Cisco's technology. The companies will pay Cisco a fee when wireless units are actually sold, said Cisco spokesman Kent Jenkins.
"We are confident that this will be adopted so quickly that it will become a de facto open standard," Jenkins said.
Jenkins said that by the end of 2000, the receivers for the system could cost less than $500 with monthly connection fees as low as the current standard price of about $20 a month, making them a viable option for consumers looking for high-speed connections.
Although the speed is highly dependent on how many people are using the system, Cisco estimates that Internet connection speeds will be at least as fast as those offered by cable or on phone companies' high-speed digital subscriber lines, both of which can transmit information up to dozens of times faster than standard telephone modems.
The design for Cisco's wireless system was created by Greg Raleigh, whose Belmont-based wireless networking company, Clarity Wireless Inc., was bought by Cisco in September 1998 for $157 million.
Raleigh's solution to the problem of reflected transmissions, caused by signals bouncing off buildings, pavement, windows and other surfaces, was to use a special encoding method that allowed him to use the echoes as an alternative pathway for transmissions.
"We turned the whole problem upside down," Raleigh said. "We're exploiting what nature provides instead of trying to correct it."
Cisco stock was down 44 cents to close at $92.75 on Nasdaq.