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Motorola Offers Exchange Program For Wi-Fi Mesh Gear

The trade-in program lets cities get credit for wireless gear exchanged for Motorola's "HotZone Duo" products.

Offering overly eager municipalities a cure for buyer's remorse, Motorola says it has launched a trade-in program to allow cities to get credit for wireless gear exchanged for Motorola's "HotZone Duo" products. Known as the Superior Wireless Access Program, the Swap offer will run for 11 weeks, from today through June 15.

The Swap deal will be publicly announced on Tuesday, said Chip Yager, director of operations for Motorola's mesh networking group, in an interview.

Motorola's trade-in offer is a clear response to the pain felt by early-adopter cities where a combination of me-too-ism from politicians, Chamber-of-Commerce enthusiasm, and the salesmanship of mesh Wi-Fi networking providers has resulted in systems that don't always live up to their billing in performance or community benefits.

Among the well"publicized municipal network projects that have run into unforeseen difficulties are ones in Mountain View, Calif., where the prototype network provided by Google with equipment from Tropos Networks has been criticized for coverage holes; Philadelphia, where the head of the city agency planning the wireless build-out left to join a consulting firm; and San Francisco, where the free network planned by Google and EarthLink has been caught up in City Council wrangling and public criticism.

"Many of the early customers in the mesh network space have run pilots with older, first-generation mesh solutions that simply cannot perform or scale to meet the expanding needs of a metro-wide network," said Paul Mueller, Motorola's VP for wireless broadband distribution, in a statement.

Sensing a market opportunity, Motorola will offer customers $500 for each old unit replaced with a single-radio HotZone Duo node, and $750 if the old unit is replaced with a dual-radio HotZone Duo. Up to 10 units can be exchanged.

Though it sells a comprehensive portfolio of outdoor wireless networking gear, Motorola has been comparatively late to the municipal mesh game -- a market dominated so far by startups like BelAir Networks, Strix Systems, and Tropos Networks, all of whom have made strong claims for the technological superiority of their products. While it's not clear that the HotZone Duo line, which includes two embedded radios -- one running over the 2.4 GHz frequency band and one over 5.8 GHz -- that can be configured into either single-radio or dual-radio mode, is inherently superior to gear already in the field, Motorola is banking on its brand name and its size to win over nervous municipalities surveying a crowded field of potential suppliers.

"We waited to get in" the booming municipal market, said Yager, "till this year as cities start to look around and see that there are so many ways to achieve what they're trying to do" with public Wi-Fi networks. Motorola, he said, is offering a "face-saving way" to enable cities to partner with a stable, established provider.

"Everything a city would like to do, we have within our portfolio," Yager said.

The launch of the Swap offer comes on the heels of a study by Uptown Services, a wireless testing firm that analyzed three California mesh networks ( Lompoc, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale) and found that actual performance often falls well short of the 90% outdoor coverage considered a benchmark for the industry.

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