Mobile wireless router from Zyxel competes with MiFi

New router fits variety of connected wireless devices coming to market

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-size MiFi mobile device from Novatel Wireless Inc., which 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 the 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 also 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 222
The Zyxel Mobile Wireless Router 222.

Zyxel will also offer two similar lower-priced mobile wireless routers that will be slightly different in size and shape and will offer different features. Those devices will cost $200 and $100, said Sailana.

Zyxel is hopeful it will get wireless carriers to resell the routers to their subscribers, but it's 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 highlight 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 it 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 portable, battery-powered MWR222 is thicker and heavier than the MiFi, but it does have advantages over the competing device, Sailana said. Its 11n compatibility offers a theoretical transfer rate of 150Mbit/sec., which is well above the MiFi's throughput of 3Mbit/sec., he said. The MWR222 is 3.96 in. long, 2.97 in. wide and 0.8 in. thick, and it weighs 5.3 oz. That's more than twice as heavy and twice as thick as Novatel's MiFi, which weighs 2 oz. and is 0.35 in. thick. The MiFi is 3.5 in. long and 2.3 in. wide.

While the MiFi could be purchased without monthly wireless service for around $215, it is being resold by CDMA carriers Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel for a monthly fee, and the initial price varies by the length of the contract. In contrast, 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.

The MWR222 supports LTE and WiMax wireless technologies as well as 3G networks, and it has dual USB and dual Ethernet ports to connect to DSL and cable modems.

The MWR222 could appeal to business professionals who want to use something other than Wi-Fi cards on laptops or want to connect iPods, iPhones or other devices to the Internet. Groups of businesspeople who travel to sites where they can't access a Wi-Fi network could use the MWR222 as a hub to enable them to work together via 3G wireless service, Sailana added.

Zyxel also won a CEA Innovation Honor for its Smart Home Gateway, which is also a battery-powered wireless router that can 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 purposes, including basic blood pressure and heart rate monitoring. Monitors can also be set to detect when a home-bound 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 revenue 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 consumer products such as wireless routers that are sold online.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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