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Airpath Joins the Mesh

In the latest in a series of announcements surrounding Wi-Fi hotzones, Airpath Wireless has joined forces with Tropos Networks to bring traditional hotspot technology to metro-scale networks -- including to exclusive Nantucket Island.

Waltham, Mass.-based Airpath, a company known for helping wireless service providers manage Wi-Fi networks, will combine its WiBOSS application with the Wi-Fi mesh system from Tropos.

"The result is a metro-scale, all-in-one solution offering broadband Wi-Fi coverage and high data delivery, with the flexibility and roaming convenience of using one login ID," according to a statement.

The agreement also means users of these particular Wi-Fi hotzones will become part of the Airpath Provider Alliance, a coalition of 500 wireless service providers operating more than 3,400 hotspots.

Supporting Wi-Fi hotzones -- often covering an entire region or city -- isn't much different from working with individual hotspots.

"The same principles apply," says Jeff Manning, Airpath director of Business Development.

Airpath is "seeing a tremendous up tick in metro-scale interest," says Manning. With the ability for Wi-Fi users to connect in dozens of locations throughout a hotzone, operators are asking, "What will I do with all this capacity," he says.

Tropos is already answering that question by adding additional services to the 'bare wire' or metropolitan-scale Wi-Fi. Earlier in the week, Tropos announced a partnership with Pronto Networks to make it easier to manage larger Wi-Fi networks.

"We are putting together the all-in-one solutions needed to further support the rapid adoption of large, metro-scale Wi-Fi networks," said Bert Williams, vice president of marketing for Tropos Networks.

As Wi-Fi providers are slowly coming to the realization of the importance of roaming between hotspots, "roaming becomes more critical for hotzones," says Manning.

"The more we broaden Wi-Fi's ubiquity, the faster it will be embraced," said Todd Myers, CEO of Airpath Wireless.

The first joint effort of Airpath and Tropos is a metro-scale network for the island of Nantucket off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

"Wi-Fi is tailor-made for Nantucket," says Manning.

Airpath, along with Tropos and local service provider Wi-Blast Inc., plans to have Wi-Fi transmitters covering the 800 acres. While there are only 9,000 full-time residents, the population of the resorts swells to nearly 50,000 each summer. While the groups hope to have the metro network up and running by the fall, there will be a preview, says Manning: Tropos and Wi-Blast will provide free wireless Internet access on Sunday, August 8, 2004, to persons attending the local Ozone Surf Classic along Nantucket's Cisco Beach.

"Nantucket is a high-profile community with stringent standards for 'look-and-feel,'" says Manning.

"We wanted to make sure we could provide the best broadband services to Nantucket and ensure that we would be able to preserve the natural beauty of the island, without disrupting the environment with unsightly wires or cables and equipment," said John Havil, Wi-Blast president and chief executive.

The partnership with Airpath "further validates" the growth of metro-scale Wi-Fi, says Brad Day, communications director at Tropos. He says the addition of Airpath makes using hotzones as "transparent as possible."

The recent announcements of vendors joining forces with metro Wi-Fi proponent Tropos is a signal that hotzones are maturing. They've "been long off the white-board," says Day. He believes that "people are coming to the conclusion hotspots maybe are not the best business model."

"Hotspots are nothing more than a public phone booth" in a cellular world, says Day.