With broadband use now overtaking the number of dial-up Internet connections in the United States -- Nielsen/NetRatings said as of July that 63 million people at home use broadband, making up 51% of the market -- it would seem that the time for a Wi-Fi router that specifically targets dial-up use would have passed.
Rudy Prince, chairman and CEO of Always On Wireless of La Jolla, Calif., disagrees.
Prince says dial-up users "have been ignored by the Wi-Fi community." That's why his company is releasing the WiFlyer, a router with a built-in V.92 modem. It also has an Internet/WAN port so it can still be used with broadband. There's a single Ethernet port for a wired connection to a PC (or it could be hooked up to a simple hub/switch unit to provide more wired connections). It can handle 16 users.
While other products do support dial-up -- Apple's Airport Extreme unit is one notable product with a built in modem -- most routers treat the dial-up as a backup option, and many require a separate serial modem be attached to get the same functionality.
The product is also pocket-sized, building on a recent trend in routers from companies like Asus, D-Link, and Apple, all small enough to be used with easy by travelers. Even some small client devices can now double as a wireless access point.
"We're focused on it being a travel access point for someone with broadband at home," says Prince. "Even if you use it at home, you still want it portable."
The product is a full-fledged router, sometimes called a base station or home gateway. It has a NAT firewall with 128-bit WEP encryption on its wireless 802.11b connections. It is not yet certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance for interoperability. That's a move Prince says they'll likely make, but he questions the value of the certification in the long run: "It's not the brand the consumer is looking for."
The WiFlyer's interface extends its focus on dial-up use by simplifying access via accounts with AOL, Earthlink, MSN and other ISPs. There are thousands of access phone numbers stored in the unit. The product also uses dial-up accelerator software to achieve supposedly six times the download speed of normal dial-up.
Prince says there's no other product with a modem so fully integrated, "and the size of a PDA."
WiFlyer will begin shipping in October, and will sell for $149.95.