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Cisco Systems, the world’s biggest maker of internet networking equipment, will on Tuesday unveil a long-awaited foray into wireless mesh networking, a fast-growing technology that threatens to intrude on cable companies’ and telecoms groups’ traditional dominance of broadband services.

Wireless mesh networks use groups of interlinked access points to provide high-speed wireless coverage across a wide area at relatively low cost.

A growing number of US cities, including Philadelphia and San Francisco, plan to install wireless mesh networks to offer blanket internet access to residents.

Such plans have met with fierce resistance from cable and telecoms groups, which have invested billions of dollars over the past several years to hard-wire homes and businesses for broadband access.

“We are seeing an enormous increase in demand for wireless infrastructure,” said Brett Galloway, vice-president of Cisco’s wireless business group.

MuniWireless, an industry group, expects cities and towns worldwide to spend $750m on wireless networks over the next three years.

Mr Galloway says wireless mesh, together with Cisco’s other wireless services, could generate more than $1bn in revenues for the company each year.

Tuesday’s announcement comes eight months after Cisco completed the acquisition of Airespace, a private wireless mesh provider.

Other big companies like Nortel Networks and Motorola have also moved into the wireless mesh market.

The number of cities and towns that plan to offer public internet access over wireless mesh networks is growing rapidly.

And although some cable providers have expressed interest in using wireless mesh networks to extend their hard-wired networks outside the home, the threat of low-cost competition has led industry groups to push for legislation in several states that would prevent municipalities from getting into the broadband business.

“What we offer brings down the cost substantially,” said John Logan, a lawyer for Tropos Networks, which has partnered Earthlink, the internet service provider, to install a city-wide wireless network in Philadelphia.

For the time being, Cisco says it will focus mainly on extending private business and municipal wireless networks to include outdoor spaces such as parks or college campuses.

“We expect this product to be very competitive,” said Cisco’s Mr Galloway.

“The ability to offer indoor-outdoor coverage is something Cisco can uniquely offer.”

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