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Siemens Readies Network Products, HomeRF Phones

Siemens will enter the retail home-network market this fall with the launch of Ethernet and Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b) products and will follow up with a first quarter launch of wireless HomeRF network gear, which will include gateways and the industry’s first HomeRF cordless phones.

Austin, Texas-based Siemens will sell HomeRF products to broadband carriers as well as to retailers, said home networking VP Kevin Duffy. In addition, the company said it will soon announce plans to work with broadband service providers to begin fall field trials of broadband voice/data services that use HomeRF gateways, HomeRF-based multiuser/multihandset 2.4GHz cordless phones, and other network devices.

The products in the trials will incorporate the new HomeRF 2.0 wireless specification, which accelerates the standard’s datarate to 10Mbps from 1.6Mbps.

HomeRF supporters envision HomeRF-equipped gateways that use wireless to distribute shared Internet access and multiple phone lines throughout a house and yard when the services are delivered to the home via cable and DSL networks. The standard supports up to eight HomeRF voice handsets on a single network, use of up to four simultaneous voice lines simultaneously with up to eight prioritized multimedia streams. It also supports up to 10 simultaneous PC users.

For homes that already have data/voice cable or DSL modems installed, HomeRF envisions add-on RF transceivers that would be Ethernet-connected to the modems. If a home already has an installed data-only cable modem or data-only DSL modem, homeowners could add an HomeRF module incorporating up to four RJ-11 inputs, which would connect to the local phone company’s analog copper wiring for voice calls.

By networking cordless phones with Internet-connected PCs, Duffy said, consumers can take advantage of new types of services, including the ability to drag and drop names and phone numbers from a PC’s Microsoft Outlook contact list to multiple cordless handsets. A PC could also be used to archive voice mails or provide unified voice and email messaging.

In New York the company demonstrated prototype Siemens-brand HomeRF cordless handsets for the first time outside its labs. The demo also included a Home RF gateway and Proxim-brand Home RF PC Card.

While Siemens gears up for its commercial rollout, at least one other company, Proxim, plans to ship HomeRF 2.0 devices before the year is out. San Leandro, Calif.-based Proxim plans September shipments of a PC Card and a USB add-on at a suggested $99 each and an Internet gateway at a suggested $199, said Ken Haase, consumer products marketing director and chairman of the HomeRF Working Group.

As part of its HomeRF plans, Siemens will begin in the fourth quarter to trial a DSL gateway with built-in HomeRF transceiver. Shipments of DSL gateways and other HomeRF devices to carriers will begin in the first quarter of 2002.

Carriers will be eager to adopt wireless, Duffy said, because they don’t have to bear the cost of running wires throughout a house for their subscribers.

Unspecified types of gateways, and other HomeRF devices, will be available in the first quarter to retailers. Although pricing wasn’t disclosed, Duffy did say that HomeRF phones will be priced comparably to its 2.4GHz cordless handsets, which start at $99 per handset, Duffy noted.

Siemens stressed that its DSL gateways will incorporate a backup battery to continue delivering multiple “virtual” voice circuits to a house in the event the house loses power. Without the battery backup, the gateway would deliver only the one analog copper circuit running to the house.

To support its HomeRF launch at retail, Siemens plans end-cap displays, signage and sales training. The products will be available at first only to select outlets among the company’s current 15,000 retail outlets, Duffy said.

To support service providers, Siemens said it will act as a “systems integrator,” offering the Siemens gateways, HomeRF phones, PC Cards and PC adapters needed to create a wireless voice/data network. Siemens will also offer to relieve carriers of inventory responsibilities by shipping products directly to the carrier’s customers, Duffy said. Siemens can also brand the equipment with the carrier’s name or supply non-Siemens brands, he added.

Siemens is targeting the Baby Bells as well as competitive local exchange carriers (CLECS), “but we expect the non-Bell companies to adopt this first,” Duffy noted.

At around the same time that it begins carrier trials, Siemens plans fall availability of its first line of retail-targeted Siemens-brand home-network products, which will include Ethernet and wireless Wi-Fi devices. The company is also looking at powerline technologies.

Siemens already sells such equipment to broadband carriers, having entered that market in February when it purchased Efficient Networks, which marketed such devices and DSL gateways to carriers. Duffy said Efficient held the top market-share spot in the DSL gateway market, he said.

Though HomeRF eliminates wires, Duffy ventured that custom installers would nonetheless be interested in selling the Siemens products. He envisions a high-speed wired backbone that could be complemented by a lower speed wireless network that extends outdoors, allows for wireless Web pad use, and allows for indoor roaming.