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Linksys churns out gear amid buyout

May 12, 20035 mins
Cellular NetworksUnified Communications

Weeks after Cisco announced acquisition, SOHO network leader continues cooking up innovative products.

Everyone’s got an opinion of what Cisco’s announced acquisition of Linksys will mean in the long term. But in these early days before the deal is finalized, Linksys appears to be doing business as usual – innovating like crazy and tackling new markets with unmatched gusto.

At the recent NetWorld+Interop show in Las Vegas, Linksys said it will continue to focus on consumer products and also is expanding its business-class line to include VPN routers and higher-capacity gigabit switches, which it sells through value-added resellers (VAR).

Linksys is scheduled in June to ship the Wireless-B Digital Media Adapter, a device that is expected to stream pictures and MP3 files from a PC to a TV, stereo or entertainment center. The box connects to entertainment devices via RCA connectors, and to networks via 802.11b wireless. Later this year, Linksys hopes to unveil a second-generation device that would stream video. For that, Linksys plans to use faster 802.11g technology and quality-of-service features found in the IEEE’s 802.11e specification. 802.11e is required for streaming video, and a draft specification is expected by the summer. The media adapter, which Linksys will position against similar devices from Sony and HP, will cost between $150 and $200.

Linksys says it will begin shipping next month a wireless gaming adapter. The adapter links via RCA connectors to the Microsoft XBox, Sony PS2 and Nintendo GameCube, and to a wired or 802.11g wireless network. The adapter would let the device access the Web so users could play online games from their living rooms without stringing cables to the closest broadband-connected PC. The box will cost $130 to $150. Linksys chose 802.11g technology over 802.11a, saying the cost of an 802.11a version “would be too high for retail.”

In July, Linksys says it will introduce the Wireless Music Station, a wireless MP3 player for cars. The device – which the company developed with telematics company Zandiant – sits either in the glove compartment or trunk like a CD changer and connects to home networks via 802.11b wireless. (How the device will be installed in cars is still being worked out.) From a PC, a user could download MP3 files to a “car music” file, then drag and drop the file to your “car” device in Explorer. Linksys says entertainment retailers such as Tower Records can use devices like these to stream promotional music to users devices when they drive within range. The yet-to-be-named player is expected to cost from $150 to $200, depending on hard disk size. Likely, Linksys would offer a version that plays six hours of music, and one that plays 12.

Around September, Linksys is scheduled to debut home automation services offered through broadband service providers and VARs, including a Web security camera that can be accessed remotely. Because the camera is connected to a wired or 802.11g wireless network, users could type the device’s IP address from a Web browser to monitor rooms in their home, their doorstep, or wherever they place the camera. Other devices would allow them to control lights, door locks and sprinkler systems. The products use standard technology – X-10, IRDA and sensors. Linksys is building the camera and developing the software user interfaces. The services are in trials now; pricing has not yet been set.

Other less-developed plans include networking over coaxial cabling and voice-over-IP phones. “We might make a version of Cisco’s 802.11b phone for [small office/ home office] once 802.11e is ready because you need QoS for voice apps,” Linksys says. “But if we do, it can’t cost more than $199. Any more than that, and the buyer needs a VAR to help guide the purchase.”

Linksys also is focusing on what it calls business-class solutions for VARs. These products include managed and gigabit switches, an area where the company sees Dell as its rival. New products will include 16- and 24-port gigabit switches, due out in the fall.

Last fall at Comdex, Linksys introduced a network-attached storage (NAS) device for the VAR market, the EFG80. This summer, Linksys is set to introduce a 120G-byte NAS and a wireless NAS. The Linux-based wireless NAS would come in 802.11a+g or 802.11g versions, with likely capacities of 80G and 120G bytes, the company says. The wireless NAS will be for small companies that need to add storage to a wireless network neatly, as well as consumers who need a media server to store audio and video files. Pricing has not been set.

In June, Linksys is scheduled to begin rolling out several products using Intel’s new line of network processors (IXP420, IXP421 and IXP422) geared to small office/home office and small-to-midsize businesses, announced in February. Included is a new wireless access point for mom-and-pop hot spots and small businesses. The access point would offer dual-mode 802.11a and 802.b/g connections, and includes SNMP management and power over Ethernet, which obviates the need for an AC power connection, according to the company. In September, Linksys says it will add a wireless access point/router to the line that includes a VPN.

Also in September, Linksys is scheduled to begin shipping a line of VPN security routers, targeted at small and corporate branch offices. Details and pricing are not set for the eight- and 16-port models, but Linksys says it plans to position them against VPN routers from SonicWall and WatchGuard.