RadioFrame Networks is stepping into a niche where others have failed before. Backed by heavy hitters including telecom tycoon Craig McCaw and venture capital firm Ignition, RadioFrame hopes to help wireless operators extend coverage inside buildings, particularly enterprise offices.
Last year, operators spent $160 million trying to improve coverage indoors, said Mark Anderson, RadioFrames vice president of business development. He believes that RadioFrames solution offers a more cost effective and efficient solution then current methods.
Operators can target enterprises that want better coverage at their offices and deploy a RadioFrame network within the facility. The network includes radios and network units, and is designed using many off -the-shelf standard components to keep costs down. The network can be linked to a companys private branch exchange so that workers can use their cellular handsets and have features such as four-digit dialing and corporate voice-mail.
In addition, the network has an option that RadioFrame believes will be very attractive to operators: "They can collocate a wireless LAN [local area network] in the same place," Anderson said.
Mobile network operators are interested in managing wireless LANs for enterprises as a potential new revenue source, he said. "Operators realize they are getting commoditized by large enterprises," he said. They may believe that adding wireless LANs to their service offering may attract and retain customers.
But not everyone is convinced that enterprises will care for extending mobile services into their facilities or allowing an operator to manage their wireless LAN. "The managed model has only taken off in public access spaces," said Jason Smolek, IDCs enterprise networks research analyst. In addition, few mobile operators have taken notice of wireless LANs in the U.S., so Smolek doesnt expect to see them beginning to manage such networks for enterprises for a couple of years.
Smolek also doubts that many enterprises have much need to try to boost mobile voice network coverage indoors. "It might work for the other side, like logistics and verticals, but I dont think its as compelling for the large enterprise," he said.
A number of companies fizzled out of business years ago after trying to sell similar types of gear. AT&T Wireless had a much-hyped offering called Wireless Office that didnt go far. But Anderson said there are good reasons why other offerings werent successful. "Traffic has changed. More people use cell phones today than five years ago," he said.
In addition, the cost of building products has gone down over time. Some of the big wireless gear vendors have also cut their divisions that built indoor products. As those companies have faced a tightening economy, they have weaned out the product lines, Anderson said.