Flarion Enters Wireless Arena

Vendor promises enterprise WAN services, compatibility with LANs.

A year after its launch, Flarion Technologies Inc., a Lucent Technologies Inc. spinoff, is shifting its focus to embrace concerns of wireless-minded IT managers, such as interaction with WLANs and the promise of flat-rate data services.

As evidence of Flarions shifting focus, the company recently announced gear that handles a handoff between an 802.11b wireless LAN and Flarions flash OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) technology, which runs packet data over IP on the 700MHz radio band.

Wireless carriers are increasingly interested in offering WLAN services along with WAN offerings, according to Flarion officials, who promise enterprise wide-area services and compatibility with existing LANs.

"In the enterprise, the cellular carriers need to grow their top-line revenue," said Peter Carson, vice president of business development at Flarion, in Bedminster, N.J. "Carriers can simply tie into their WLAN and create a roaming agreement."

Flash OFDM focuses on data, although it is technically possible to use it for voice over IP. It delivers speeds of up to 384K bps.

Flarion officials said the business model will be based on a flat, all-you-can-eat pricing model of $40 per month.

In addition to the promise of high speed at a fixed cost, Flarion offers base stations that can handle up to 200 users, more than any cellular base station can handle.

Flarion began trials last year, with permission from the Federal Communications Commission, to run on the 700MHz spectrum band. This band is hot real estate as far as spectrum goes.

The FCC, Congress and the wireless carriers have been fighting over how and when to auction off spectrum in this band. An auction is set for June, but the incumbent television broadcasters arent required to exit from the band before 2006.

Flarion has the advantage of having coordinated with incumbent broadcasters and proving it can run on the band—even if broadcasters are there. The company plans to offer services on bands currently occupied by Global System for Mobile Communications wireless carriers as well.

Flarions success will depend on carriers support. "We dont want to be in the spectrum or network operator business," Carson said.

The company said it has plans with at least one carrier with whom it has been conducting initial market trials. Flarion declined to give details of the trials or the name of the carrier. But sources close to the company said the trials include six sites. The company is testing the technology as an alternative to third-generation services and as a substitute for such wire-line technologies as digital subscriber line. Officials said trial users have been so pleased with the results that they are reluctant to return modems. Analysts say Flarion has a good chance of success.

"First, they needed a carrier to support them, which they seem to have," said Tole Hart, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "They hit the right price point. ... The services can be provisioned over the air and do not require a truck roll, and you can take it wherever you work. I think that is worth the $40. ... But there are a lot of similar services like Metricom [Corp., which ran the Ricochet network,] that have failed, so it is still a wait and see."