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Mobile wireless router from Zyxel competes with Mi-Fi

Wireless carriers and retailers have been promising a wide array of low-priced gadgets beyond smartphones that will hit the market soon, taking advantage of faster wireless networks.

The list of devices ranges from dedicated e-readers to advanced GPS units. There will also be more mobile routers, similar to the pocket-sized MiFi mobile device from Novatel Wireless that can connect up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices to a wireless CDMA 1x EV-Do Rev A network.

Recently, Taiwan-based manufacturer Zyxel Communications Inc. announced a competitor to MiFi called the MWR222, a mobile wireless router that is compatible with faster 802.11n Wi-Fi devices (as well as 802.11b/g) and 3G wireless networks. The device, which is alos pocket-size, will go on sale in the first quarter of 2010 for $300 through various online electronics sites, said Jake Sailana, marketing manager for Zyxel's North America operations.

The Zyxel Mobile Wireless Router 222Two similar mobile wireless routers from Zyxel will go on sale with somewhat different form factors and features for less with prices of $200 and $100, he said.

Zyxel is hopeful it will get wireless carriers to resell the routers to their subscribers, and is also working to sell its products in retail stores, such as Best Buy, Sailana said in an interview.

The MWR222 was named an Innovations Honoree on Nov. 10 by the Consumer Electronics Association, which picked devices in 36 categories that it will display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January.

Part of the reason the MWR222 won the distinction, Sailana said, is because CEA judges see the device as the kind of product that business travelers and consumers need now. “It's come out at the right time for how people are interacting with the Internet,” he said. “It just makes sense as a product.”

The MWR222 is thicker than the MiFi, but it also has advantages over the competing device, Sailana said, with portable battery power. Its 11n compatibility, which offers a theoretical transfer rate at 150 Mbit/sec. is well above the MiFi throughput of 3 Mbit/sec., he said. The MWR222 is 3.96 in. by .8 in. by 2.97 in. in size. and weighs 5.3 ounces. That's twice as heavy as the MiFi's 2 ounces and more than twice as thick at .35 inches. The MiFi is also 3.5 in. long x 2.3 in. wide.

While the MiFi device could be bought without monthly wireless service at around $215, it is being resold by CDMA carriers Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel with a monthly fee, and the initial price varies by the length of the contract. But Zyxel's Sailana said the MWR222 is being sold independent of carriers, giving businesses the ability to choose the wireless carrier that will support it. “It supports any USB adapter from any service provider,” he said.

LTE and WiMax wireless echnologies as well as 3G networks are supported, but dual USB and dual Ethernet ports can be used to connect to DSL and cable modems.

Among the markets that could used the MWR222 are business professionals who want to supplant Wi-Fi cards on laptops, or want to connect iPods, iPhones and other devices to the Internet. Business groups traveling to another business location and can't access a Wi-Fi network can use the MWR222 as a hub to work together, accessing through a 3G wireless carriers, Sailana added.

Zyxel also won a CEA Innovation Honor for a Smart Home Gateway, which is also a battery-powerd wireless router and will be used as a hub for collecting data from multiple home health monitoring devices. The gateway will go on sale through various resellers in the first quarter. Pricing was not announced.

The gateway can connect to Bluetooth and Zigbee-compliant medical sensors used for various medical duties, including basic blood pressure and heart rate monitoring. Monitors can also be set to detect when a home-based elderly person stops moving, sending an alarm to a distant location over a wired or wireless network, including Wi-Fi 11n and 3G and 4G networks.

“We predict there's going to be a lot of demand for health monitoring applications, and when you consider the millions of baby boomers reaching retirement, it will be huge,” Sailana said.

Zyxel has been manufacturing communications products for 20 years and had 3,200 employees with $479 million in revenues in 2008, according to its Web site. Sailana said most of its revenues comes from sales of products such as DSL gateways, switches and wireless routers sold to service providers, but it also makes firewalls and other network and security products sold through resellers as well as consumers products such as wireless routers that are sold online.

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