At The Junxion Of Cellular And Wi-Fi
By Mike Masnick, Wed Jun 23 21:45:00 GMT 2004
A new router is coming out that uses a cellular connection for backhaul. It's targeted at groups of employees in temporary locations, but it will meet plenty of competition in that sector.
Last month, BMW and HP announced plans to stick a Wi-Fi access point in the back of certain models using a GPRS connection as the backhaul. While it got some attention as one of the first "Wi-Fi-enabled cars," it seemed like a fairly small market -- and left people wondering why passengers wouldn't just use their own GPRS data cards.
Still, the idea that a Wi-Fi access point could use a cellular backhaul connection may not be completely out of line in certain situations -- and that appears to be what new startup Junxion is betting on. They've developed a router that can pop-in a cellular data card from any of the big providers and immediately provide a Wi-Fi access point with cellular backhaul and no major configuration issues (and no need to buy a Bimmer).
While some are insisting that 3G will kill Wi-Fi, this at least shows one way in which the two might work together. However, it seems like there are a lot of hurdles to making this a successful product. First, it's a bit pricey at $700/box -- after which you would need to add on the cellular data service, which runs about $80/month for many offerings. Second, it seems that the usefulness of such a box is limited to a very specific circumstance: you have a group of people all working together who need internet access and there are no other alternatives around. The article lists construction workers and professional services as two areas they could target, but even that seems questionable. Many construction sites these days already use fixed wireless connections that offer much higher speeds that this would offer (at least for a few years, at which point there will be many more high speed wireless broadband offerings). Professional services teams also seem like a limited market. If you drop a bunch of consultants into an office situation, they will often be given access to the local wireless LAN, and with proper configuration, they can be kept separate from the local data, if that's a concern. Finally, this device then becomes useless if the group needs to spread out or separate. At least if they all have their own network cards, they can access the internet wherever they are. With a Junxion box, however, they all need to remain together.
Beyond just the business model, however, there are two much bigger hurdles. First, as is discussed in the initial article, wireless carriers aren't going to be thrilled about multiple people using a single connection, which would be a violation of their terms of service. However, as Glenn Fleishman points out, they may not be able to do anything to stop it. The bigger issue, however, is that there are many other people and companies working on ways to build "mobile Wi-Fi" base stations, many of which are described by Sam Churchill in an article earlier this week. There very well may be space for a Wi-Fi box with cellular backhaul, but that doesn't mean this particular solution is particularly compelling. Others are targeting specific areas such as putting Wi-Fi access into trains or buses, and if there really is demand for a Junxion style box, it's likely that these other providers will make minor changes to their own boxes and offer them. Meanwhile, this solution doesn't seem all that complicated for someone to quickly build on their own, as can be seen by the Magic Bike, a bicycle based access point that also uses cellular backhaul to produce a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.