RealTime IT News

Wi-Fi Product Watch: March 2006

Wireless modems in laptops — those that would connect to 3G network technologies like EV-DO, W-CDMA, HSDPA and the like — will increase as 3G networks continue to spread, according to ABI Research. They say there's years left for the market of PC Card add-ons, but more will be embedded as time goes on, enough to equal the 3G PC Card market by 2009. This is going to mean mobile providers giving laptop vendors incentives to build in the technology, since changes won't be easy (it's not like swapping out a PC Card), probably in the form of a bounty for each new activation. As of the end of 2005, ABI says Option NV was the number one cellular modem provider. Other vendors in the space include Novatel Wireless, Sierra Wireless and SonyEricsson. (Novatel, not to be outdone by arch-rival Sierra, recently announced an upgrade to its Merlin line of PC Card wireless modems to support EV-DO Revision A, providing a new 3G speed of 3.1Mbps).

2hotspot.com has publicly launched its combination software/service for creating wireless communities with bulletin boards and forums, hotspots (both free and for-fee), or just for sharing your Internet connection like a hotspot by splitting your ISP bill, all using existing Wi-Fi equipment — it essentially turns your Wi-Fi laptop into a portable hotspot, managed through a Web site. Users with Windows computers can download the free hotspot controller software.

Metalink claims it is the first chipmaker to demonstrate silicon based on the 802.11n draft, which only this month was given a 1.0 designation by the IEEE (and won't be finalized for at least one year). That's not going to stop companies from issuing draft-standard products ahead of time, however, and Metalink wants to be ahead of the game when the consumer electronics market looks to 11n to support high-definition multimedia in homes. The Israeli company's WLANPlus chip includes a baseband and radio. It uses a 2x3 antenna scheme for supporting MIMO and getting full QoS delivery of multiple video streams at a distance of 100 feet.

SMC Networks' latest EliteConnect Wireless Access Points are targeting enterprises by including features like multiple SSID support, VLAN tags, SNMP v3, and full Quality of Service (QoS) for voice and video traffic. There are two units: one with 802.11a/b/g for $350, and a b/g-only unit for $300. Both also support 802.3af Power over Ethernet using an SMC power injector. They'll start shipping in February.

Symbol Technologies announced some new wireless goodies this week, including new features like Layer 3 roaming so connections are not dropped when users move around, mesh networking using dual-radio APs (one radio for backhaul, another for clients), and a location-based wireless Intrusion Protection System (IPS) on the WS5100 wireless switch. The company also released a new rugged mobile computer for tracking items in a warehouse, the MC9090 family, which supports WANs, 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth.  It even builds in push-to-talk voice and GPS.

The CWNP Program has upgraded their CWNA (Certified Wireless Network Administrator) course with new presentation materials, including 200 Flash animations. The program is eschewing PowerPoint presentations for what it sees as being more striking. Some classes are already underway with the new courseware. Samples and a new course outline are available for preview. Eventually, they'll do this with all their certification courses for security, analysis and training.

AirWave Wireless announced an upgrade to its Wi-Fi network management software — AirWave Management Platform (AMP) —to version 4.2. The big deal this time around is to split up labor efficiently across the IT staff, giving help desk support different real-time troubleshooting abilities vs. a field technician or engineer, despite the fact that all are looking at the same network data (they call it 'role-based' vs. 'responsibility-based' network management). It also includes many new reports for use under Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI, HIPAA and other government regulations.

March 24, 2006

The latest round of fixed WiMax certified products have been announced by the WiMax Forum after testing at the lab in Spain. They include the the Airspan MacroMAX base station and EasyST subscriber station, Axxcelera's ExcelMax base station, Sequans Communications' SQN1010-RD subscriber station, Siemens' WayMAX@vantage base station and subscriber station, and Wavesat's miniMAX subscriber station. All run in the 3.5GHz frequency spectrum. This brings the total number of products tested for interoperability up to 14.

Having a router with wireless, Ethernet and DHCP server (for handing out IP addresses) all in one box is nothing new, but how about throwing in a couple of USB 2.0 connectors, a WINS server, network attached storage, and a Web and e-mail server? Then you have the non-ironically named Home Server, a product due from Threshold Corp. later this year for $300. What's extra-special is the "blue spot" on the top which allows for "magnetic coupling" for easy configuration of proprietary items (which will include webcams, motion detectors and other stuff).

The API for Mexens Technology's Navizon geo-positioning software, which uses Wi-Fi access points and cellular phone towers to triangulate, is now available for developers. New features for Navizon include the Tracker for sharing location info within a group, and Geotags for posting information on specific locations.

March 22, 2006

SkyPilot's SkyExtender is no longer just coming in a "DualBand" configuration (for them, DualBand means supporting 802.11b/g and mesh backhaul in the 5.8GHz band). The company's new SkyExtender TriBand, due in May, looks exactly the same but adds support for 4.9GHz, the spectrum reserved in the United States by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by public safety. The new unit will sell for $4,200 a pop. The DualBand is still around for $3,500, and the regular SkyExtender for extending the mesh backhaul is $2,800.

What does consumer Wi-Fi need? More speed? Embedded chips in everything from the computer to the TV to the kids? ABI Research says quite simply that it needs "more user-friendly security features." They say, rightly so, that most Wi-Fi security is just too hard to set up, and that most users throw up their hands and just use it as-is (assuming it works), even as awareness of security problems become commonplace. The research firm expects that one of the one-button-push security systems being offered by Buffalo Technology, Broadcom and Atheros will become an open standard with the Wi-Fi Alliance this year; the Alliance has long been saying it has an internal marketing task group working on a "Simple Security" plan, but the details remain unknown.

Telsima Corporation of India has announced a new line of WiMax products called StarMAX. They include a base station and subscriber station, a management system with graphical interface, a provisioning manager to control end-user access and mobility, and even an RF planning/design tool.

Tropos Networks has a deal with Allot Communications to offer Allot NetEnforcer products for controlling network traffic on broadband wireless services to Tropos customers. The NetEnforcer uses DPI (deep packet inspection) technology to "shape" traffic to guarantee a level of service as conditions or priorities change, by allocating bandwidth where it's needed most.

Wi-LAN is making good on its promise to sell off intellectual property (IP) assets. Fujitsu Microelectronics America is getting Wi-LAN's WiMAX PHY and MAC IP and related customer contracts, plus the license on OFDM patents used for making WiMax products; meanwhile, its wireless broadband product lines (the Ultima 3, VIP and LIBRA MX) will go to EION along with all the current orders for them, as well as any patents related to the product licensed to EION without exclusivity. Both deals should go through sometime in April if everything is approved.

Want to be ready for the next generation of EV-DO networks (Revision A), with a peak data rate around 3.1 Megabits per second (Mbps) down and 1.8Mbps up? Sierra Wireless wants you to be, and has two products coming later this year for the increased speed -- one PCI Express mini card for embedding in products, and one wireless wide area network PC Card, the AirCard 595. Both are backward compatible with existing EV-DO and CDMA 1X networks.

March 16, 2006

Cognio's Spectrum Expert is now at version 2.0, and includes enhancements to troubleshoot network performance for not just data but also voice on the WLAN. They've added charting and graphics capabilities so admins can see, for example, how many cordless phones are operating in the channels they want to use for Wi-Fi. There's a record/playback function now that captures spectrum information, which can be saved and sent as a file attachment to others; it just needs a downloadable player to view the data. The product sells for $3,995.

Big shock: the "Security in Wireless Networks" report by PandaLabs, part of Panda Software, says that 60 percent of wireless networks don't have any security turned on. The report is ostensibly about the deficiencies in wired equivalent privacy (WEP) encryption and the "relative reliability" of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), which PandaLabs says is hardly used at all compared to WEP. They say WLANs are an "infection channel" for malware and attacks on corporate networks.

Pioneer Consulting says in a new report that WiMax will have a big role to play in the future for carriers, with a market value of $2 billion (with a "b") by the year 2010. They call it a 4G (fourth generation) wireless tech. But they say the future is not certain, and that issues of global spectrum harmonization could trip WiMax up.

ABI Research thinks the metropolitan Wi-Fi networks of the world will go from the piddling 1,500 square miles of coverage they had in 2005 to 126,000 square miles — that's 325,000 square kilometers— by 2010. That's bigger than the entire state of New Mexico. That deployment will require 1 million mesh routers to ship in 2010, resulting in revenues of over $1.2 billion. That is, of course, unless mesh gets supplanted by WiMax or some cellular type of technology, but the report focuses on the mesh equipment providers new and old like BelAir Networks, Cisco Systems, Firetide, MeshDynamics, Motorola, Nortel Networks and others.

Digi International makes wireless 802.11b embedded modules that can go into products used in everything from healthcare to mining to manufacturing. Soon, those modules will be trackable, at lease if you use the Ekahau Real Time Location System (RTLS). Ekahau is licensing its software to the company to include in the Digi Connect Wi-EM, Digi Connect Wi-ME, and Digi Connect Wi-SP products. Ekahau says it’s the first in a series of OEM agreements it plans to make, part of an initiative called "Located by Ekahau."

SOHOware says its new bundles solve the guest access problem for businesses big and small. They include gateways to handle routing, security, billing, Web portal branding and client access over Wi-Fi. Just pick the AeroGate gateway that appeals — they have one for 1,500 concurrent users, one for 400, and another for 50.

March 14, 2006

D-Link Wi-Fi PhoneD-Link is at the VON show in San Jose, California this week showing off a new Wi-Fi/SIP phone (model DPH-540) that works with the Public SIP Telephone Network (PsipTN) telephony backbone run by TelTel. The clamshell-design phone weighs less than four ounces with color LCD display — so it can display the TelTel softphone — and  can be used away from the PC to call TelTel subscribers for free, or regular telephones for a fee. The Wi-Fi chip inside is from Broadcom. It will sell for about $300 starting this summer.

Trango Broadband Wireless says it's taking the wrap off its high-speed HD Mesh system designed for municipal networks. It comes ready to work with multiple frequency bands, including the 4.9GHz band for public safety use, with micro-cells that can handle multiple functions such as Wi-Fi access plus point-to-multipoint connections. Backbone radios are available in the 4.9, 5.3, 5.4 and 5.8 GHz frequency bands in a weatherized enclosure that can support six Ethernet devices such as cameras or other access points.

Earlier this week, the Wi-Fi Alliance made it official that WPA2 — the consortium's uber-security for Wi-Fi networks that enhances even the 802.11i specification — is now mandatory on all products sent to the Alliance labs for interoperability testing. 600 products already have WPA2 certification since testing started in September 2004, according to Karen Hanley, Senior Director of Marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance. WPA2 has two flavors: Personal and Enterprise. The former uses a password and AES encryption for home networks; the latter includes full use of the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) to verify a device or user coming onto the network.

March 13, 2006

The 802.11n draft specification made a minor leap forward today when the IEEE 802.11 Working Group voted during a meeting in Denver, Colorado to official call the current draft version 1.0. Bill McFarland, CTO at chipmaker Atheros, issued a statement saying the 1.0 draft was "changed primarily by editorial adjustments and additional text for clarity and completeness," which he considers a good sign. From here, it goes to the letter balloting stage where members haggle over the details for several months before it goes for final ratification.

Airspan Networks says its AS.MAX WiMax product line can now support Mobile WiMax, not just fixed, with some products needing only a software upgrade to provide mobile support. The company also announced the 16eUSB, a quad-band (2.3-2.4 GHz, 2.5-2.7 GHz, 3.3-3.7 GHz, and the 4.9-5.4 GHz) USB device also meant to be compatible with Mobile WiMax (or 802.16e), which Airspan CEO Eric Stonestrom says "will allow a user to have access to WiMax networks virtually anywhere in the world."

March 8, 2006

BelAir Networks is working with VAR WinnCom Technologies to release the BelAir Town Square Wireless Mesh Network bundle. It's meant as a turnkey for cities that want to slap up some easy and robust wireless service. It includes eight BelAir50c mesh nodes, the BelView management software, a Nomadix AG5000 Metro Gateway, and user billing and authentication software from Airpath, for a total price of $36,900 (with all the cables included).

Not to be outdone, mesh maker Tropos Networks is teaming up with wireless broadband equipment maker Alvarion to co-market a combination of their equipment to municipalities looking to install Wi-Fi. The combo would include Tropos MetroMesh Wi-Fi products with Alvarion BreezeACCESS 4900 (4.9GHz) and BreezeACCESS VL (5GHz) products for long-distance, non-line-of-sight backhaul.

McAfee's Internet Security Suite will be offered as part of TRENDnet's line of 802.11g products (including router, AP, PC Card, PCI adapter and USB adapter) to help customers protect against attacks, viruses, spyware and more. Trial subscriptions will be complimentary for a time, and then users can buy the McAfee products at a discount if they want to keep them.

Irish broadband provider Magnet Entertainment will be using technology from Ruckus Wireless to provide wireless digital TV in homes at a lower cost than normal TV (as much as 84 percent lower, according to the companies) because the equipment is customer self-installed with an average install time of seven minutes. It consists of connecting a Ruckus adapter to an Amino set-top box that runs the TV. The adapter talks to an access point running Ruckus software, and auto-configures settings and encryption. This is all instead of wiring a home with Ethernet as Magnet used to do. Magnet offers 66 IPTV channels, as well as VoIP and Internet access.

While Cisco remains perpetually on top of the heap for enterprise WLAN products overall, it lags behind Symbol in one area: WLAN switches and controllers. Symbol, after all, started the area. But Infonetics says that in 2006 Cisco took the lead (after it bought out Airespace), with Symbol and then 3Com bringing up the rear of the top three. In fact, switch/controller shipments went up 154 percent and revenue grew 93 percent from 2004 to 2005, even though they only represent 19 percent of the enterprise equipment sold. Overall equipment sales (including consumer equipment) from year to year went up 10 percent. Infonetics expects the market to reach $3.8 billion in revenue by 2009. Most of the revenue made with WLANs is sold in North America — almost half. The firm also expects WiMax to make big strides, going to $1.6 billion in sales by 2009.

March 7, 2006

WiTopia now has service packages targeting home and business users for its SecureMyWiFi hosted authentication service for wireless networks, using almost any router or access point supporting WPA or WPA2. The new packages are priced at $10 per year for homes (plus $20 activation), or $99 per year for businesses with 100 or fewer employees (plus $99 activation). The service works on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Netgear says the coming CeBIT show in Hannover will include the debut of a new design for its wireless gear — hardware that will come later this year with support for the 802.11n draft specification that was agreed upon (in principle) in January by the IEEE. The company says the new look will optimize the speed and range, delivering data rates of 600Mbps.

Sputnik is offering a new hosted service called Sputnik Express to let small business owners with just a  single location offer free Wi-Fi to customers. They can create branded welcome pages that include information about the business using data from Google and Yahoo!, as well as the PlaceSite Wi-Fi Community software for making an online community just for their patrons. Businesses will have to buy Sputnik-powered access points (though some Linksys routers can get the Sputnik-flavored firmware for free). Sputnik is also partnering with smartBridges, so the Sputnik Control Center software will work with smartbridges' airPoint Nexus PRO  hardware so wireless broadband providers can set options for users.

ARC Wireless Solutions says the release of a 2.4GHz Directional Diversity Antenna marks the launch of a new ARC Parity Antenna line of products. The initial ARC Parity unit is a 6.5 dBi gain unit designed to reduce multipath interference issues. No price is listed, but it will eventually be for sale at antennas.com.