Nortel, Xircom, and Sierra team up on 3G Wireless Modems |  Networking

BOSTON -- NORTEL Networks on Wednesday said it has signed an agreement with Sierra Wireless and Xircom to independently develop what is claimed to be the industry's first 3G (third-generation) wireless modems based on the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service) standard.

Sierra Wireless, in Richmond, British Columbia, and Xircom, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., both plan to develop their own multimode UMTS/GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) wireless modems, including PC cards, Compact Flash cards, and embedded modules, the companies said in a statement. Nortel Networks intends to finance the development and to provide technical and joint marketing support. Market trials and general availability are expected to start in the first half of 2002. Nortel did not disclose how large a financial investment it was making.

The growing demand for UMTS and GPRS in Europe, Asia, and ultimately in the United States is pushing Nortel deeper into this market, said Peter MacKinnon, Nortel vice president of wireless Internet, in an interview. What is coming are faster data rates and richer video and sound possibilities for wirelessly enabled devices, he said.

Nortel, in Brampton, Ontario, will make several announcements in the coming weeks about IP service delivery and applications for wireless networks, MacKinnon said.

The new modems will work in PDAs, laptops, in-vehicle information systems, MP3 players, digital cameras, and IP-enabled personal digital devices, Nortel said.

There is a movement to bring UMTS to the United States. AT&T Wireless Group earlier this month announced it will upgrade its U.S. network during 2002 to support UMTS and 3G data rate speeds of 2Mbps.

Sierra Wireless, based in Richmond, British Columbia, offers wireless data communications hardware and software products and recently licensed wireless protocol stacks from Bangalore, India-based Sasken Communication Technologies.

The protocol stacks for GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communications) and GPRS will be designed into wireless PC modem cards to be introduced by Sierra, which is likely to support both on a single PC card. Sasken engineers are currently working on integrating these two protocols on sample boards built around a third-party chipset that Sierra is considering using for its devices.

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