Tropos Networks of Sunnyvale, California is in the cat-bird seat as the primary provider of equipment for mesh installations planned by EarthLink in cities like Philadelphia. Some question the viability of Tropos hardware because it uses a single Wi-Fi radio — but it keeps the company’s costs low, and that keeps the equipment attractive. Tropos’ claims of high capacity for users in each square mile of coverage doesn’t hurt.
In fact, the company now says that the latest version of its MetroMesh operating system software (version 5.1) will bump subscriber capacity up from about 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) per square mile to around 20Mbps. (That number is meant to indicate the total bandwidth available to all users on the network at the same time in that square-mile area.)
It gets this new high performance through automated channel allocation of MetroMesh nodes. Channels are picked based on information gathered from all the nodes — too much interference on one channel might cause an entire cluster of Tropos hardware to perform a dynamic channel switch. This is now a part of the company’s Predictive Wireless Routing Protocol (PWRP), the bread and butter of running the single-radio architecture without problems.
“We’ve talked about PWRP selecting the best path in the network” for traffic routing, says Bert Williams, Senior Director of Marketing at Tropos. “Now we extend that to the channel… to find the best path on the best channel.”
Also new in version 5.1 is support for collecting data for tools the company announced late last year that are only now becoming available. Tropos Insight does data analysis and multimedia optimization that runs remotely, while Tropos Drive is an actual hardware appliance used by network administrators as they physically drive around a Tropos mesh, using it to gather data on the throughput of the network.
New mesh edge rate management will enforce bandwidth policy for wireless users, making sure that no single client gets more speed than anyone else. Williams wants to point out that this is not Tropos getting into the bandwidth management industry itself, but working with partners to take their policy management from the wired side of the network to the wireless edge.
Finally, to make Tropos hardware even more attractive to ISPs, MetroMesh 5.1 will help existing ISPs, even the nationwide entities, integrate wireless mobility. The software supports GRE tunneling and BGP routing used by many network operators for user authentication. Logged on this way, users can roam from network to network without losing a signal. “This lets operators roll out national or international systems that use the same authentication they already have in place,” says Williams.
With all the intricate software work going into making sure Tropos products remain viable and attractive, will the company ever create multiple radio products like the competition?
“Not to say we’re fundamentally against that,” says Williams, “but based on the applications running in networks today, and the bandwidth required by them and the costs those systems impose on operators, we have yet to see the return on investment that would justify the introduction of such a system.”
“However,” he adds, “we think that’ll change in the future.” The cause will be increased revenue opportunities when end users are willing to pay more to support features like streaming media, as well as moves away from Wi-Fi to other wireless technologies in the future. “We’ll differentiate from the competition by continuing to have smart routing,” says Williams.