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Motorola overcomes hurdles to launch wireless broadband kit

Motorola's Canopy wireless broadband products are finally on sale in the UK, but official restrictions have given them less power and range
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
US telecoms firm Motorola has brought its Canopy range of wireless broadband equipment to the UK.

Three models, running at 2.4GHz, 5.4GHz and 5.7GHz, were unveiled at a press conference in London earlier this week. Canopy radios can be used as wireless access points to bring broadband connectivity to businesses and homes within a small area, or as point-to-point wireless bridges between buildings.

At a demonstration in London on Monday, Motorola showed that Internet applications such as VoIP could run over Canopy. Each radio can handle a theoretical maximum of 10Mbps of traffic, with 7Mbps typical in practice, the company said.

However, Motorola also revealed that UK regulations mean that these new UK versions of Canopy are less powerful than other versions launched in countries such as Canada.

"The range is less good. The products coming to the UK can reach around two miles, which gives some 13 square miles of coverage," said Tony Kobrinetz, vice-president and general manager for Canopy wireless broadband. "The Canadian and US versions have a range of 10 miles, which equates to a coverage area of over 300 square miles."

The Canopy range was launched in the US over two years ago. At the time, the 5GHz band was available for use by ISPs in the US, but not in the UK.

This band was opened up in the UK in 2003. However, despite the concerns of some companies and broadband campaigners, the Radiocommunications Agency (now part of Ofcom), insisted that any equipment using this band for outdoor wireless networks had to include special features.

These features -- called DFS (Dynamic Frequency Selection) and TPC (transmit power control) -- prevent interference with military radar and outside broadcasting which already used the 5GHz band. The RA's insistence on this requirement meant that manufacturers such as Motorola could not simply offer UK customers equipment like Canopy, as they didn't support DFS and TPC.

While Motorola isn't publicly criticising the UK regulators, it is clear that manufacturers aren't happy about these restrictions.

"There are added advantages that could be given to rural and underserved communities," said Kobrinetz, hinting that Ofcom might want to consider revising its rules for the 5GHz band.

The regulator, though, denies that it had disadvantaged Britain's broadband blackspots.

"There is a power limit on the band to enable the new users to coexist with other users," said an Ofcom spokesman, who pointed out that without DFS and TPC new entrants wouldn't have been able to get access to the band at all.

Ofcom also claims that support for these two features makes the new Canopy kit better, rather than worse.

"The kit is both more resistant to interference as a result and can coexist more fairly with other users as well," added the spokesman.

Pricing details for Canopy aren't yet available, as the products will be sold by resellers. In the US, a pack of six radios plus power supply and a switch is priced at around $8,000 but typically sells for less, according to Motorola.

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