Meshing to the Customer Premises

If you’re lucky enough to live in a city or town with a municipal Wi-Fi network, you’re probably still not using it at home. That’s the secret of these networks: the wireless mesh gets around buildings just fine, but not always into the buildings. That’s why customer premises equipment (CPE) from companies like PEPwave and Ruckus Wireless have done well in some quarters — they extend the mesh to the indoors.

Now, some mesh vendors are realizing they’re missing out by not selling these CPEs themselves. (Others, like SkyPilot, have offered a CPE for a while.)

Last week, Motorola announced that its MOTOwi4 wireless will get a new wi4 Indoor solution to go along with its suite of other wireless products, including municipal Wi-Fi, WiMax and enterprise WLAN gear. The wi4 Indoor solution combines the enterprise equipment with Broadband over Powerline (BPL).

Firetide today announced its own CPE, in both a plug-in indoor version and a weatherproof outdoor version that can go in atriums and the like. Firetide’s mesh is unique in that it only handles the mesh backhaul; it doesn’t do the client connections. For that, you plug in third-party (or Firetide-provided) access points. The Firetide outdoor CPE will support multiple APs.

Ksenia Coffman, marketing manager at Firetide, believes the reason to go into this biz against established players is to help the provider, saying, “It’s more convenient for the provider to get end-to-end infrastructure equipment from one vendor — it ensures no interoperability issues.” Perhaps more importantly for the provider, using CPEs from their main equipment provider means also using the mesh management tools to centrally control the service level customers get right into their homes. At least, that’s the case with Firetide’s HotView Pro management system.

Firetide hasn’t announced pricing on the units, but that will depend on what providers want to charge end users anyway. They’ll be out in August. One of the first customers will be iCell of Singapore.

Perhaps knowing that the mesh providers are hot on their heels, PePWave has announced new products, including a ruggedized Mesh Connector, which it describes as a layer 2 repeater intended to extend indoor coverage. It will be coupled with the PePWave True Address Gateway (TAG) appliance, which makes sure that end-user MAC addresses (sometimes lost in packet transit) stay intact, without changing the provider’s network setup. The Mesh Connector can be remotely managed, but through the PePWave Central Management System — which might be a second management program to learn if the provider already has one for their mesh. PePWave is now a partner of Wireless Tech, a provider of metro Wi-Fi in the Asia-Pacific region.

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