Panasonic offers wireless broadband service to connect its products

Panasonic will offer wireless service to its Japanese customers, a novel approach for a consumer electronics vendor

Panasonic launched a wireless broadband service in Japan this week that is intended to encourage customers to use its coming wave of Internet-ready appliances and services.

Panasonic said its aptly named "WiMAX Service" will work with its wired TVs, audio equipment, refrigerators and washing machines, as well as future offerings in home energy management, health care and security.

While electronics makers are pumping out more "smart" devices that connect to home networks and the Internet, it is still rare for them to assume the role of network provider. One example is Amazon, whose successful Kindle e-reader can download books over 3G networks with no cellular contract or monthly fees.

Like many of its rivals, Panasonic offers laptops and other devices with built-in wireless Internet, but these require a separate contract with a service provider.

Panasonic will now serve as an MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, meaning it will interact directly with customers but will lease its network services. The company will work with UQ Communications, which operates a large WiMAX network across Japan.

Panasonic said its goal is to provide a complete solution including products, network services, customer support and the network connection itself.

"Currently it is typical for customers to sign contracts directly with service providers, which puts a large burden on them when configuring or trouble-shooting, because contracts differ for each device and provider," the company said in a statement.

Panasonic said its service will offer 40M bps (bits-per-second) download speeds with 15.4M bps upstream. It will cost ¥3,880 (US$50) per month on a one-year contract, the same price offered by UQ. There was no word about any plans to offer such a service internationally.

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