March 28, 2006 7:20 AM PST

Start-up promises cheaper wireless VoIP

Wireless communications start-up xG Technology said Tuesday that the first commercial products based on its low-power xMax wireless technology will be available later this year.

Following a limited set of unspecified enterprise-grade products in August, a consumer VoIP handset will be launched by the end of 2006, the Florida-based company said.

"A single base station will handle 30,000 subscribers using 300 minutes per month, based on current cellular-usage models," said Chris Whiteley, vice president of business development at xG Technology. "But we expect to drive a change in usage patterns. Even at 3,600 minutes per month, the system will support 2,500 users."

Establishing a base station should cost in the thousands rather than the millions of dollars, the company said. "A number of companies have expressed interest, but nobody's signed up yet," Whiteley noted.

xMax is a proprietary broadband wireless technology that claims to have uniquely low-power operation over long distances. To date, public demonstrations have been limited to one-way, point-to-point data transmissions, and the company said that voice or multiuser tests have yet to be conducted, even internally. Nevertheless, the company says it is confident that its product will be available by the end of the year.

"We've signed with an expert, known producer of VoIP handsets," said Whiteley. "They're bringing a lot of hardware and software expertise, and we're adding our xMax chip." The name of the partner will be announced before August, he said.

The handset will also support Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet connections to improve coverage within customer premises by using their existing networks. Although seamless handover between Wi-Fi and xMax may not happen in the first generation of handsets, "it remains a goal," Whiteley said.

Currently, the U.S. is the only region where xMax has regulatory approval. "We're designing for North America, but we have some strategic interest outside," said Whiteley. "If it's deployed internationally, it will have to be in licensed bands. A lot of developing countries would be easier for 'greenfield' development."

Rupert Goodwins of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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