Wi-Fi Product Watch: December 2006

RaLink Technologies’ new 802.11n draft-compliant chip supposedly has the longest range in the industry. The RT2800 will double the range of other chips using a “patented, low-noise circuitry that pinpoints and recovers the high-speed 802.11n streams of data,” according to RaLink’s claims. The chip can be used in APs for residences, business, and outdoors. It is designed to take software upgrades as the 11n draft changes in the future. Standard interfaces for the chip include PCI, miniPCI, CardBus, USB 2.0, PCIe, and MiniCard.

December 18, 2006

Lots of people have been excited for an iPhone to debut…but most wanted one from Apple. Cisco’s Linksys beat them to the punch, announcing the iPhone brand for its family of VoIP phones including many previously announced units such as the Wireless-G IP Phone model WIP300. The only new wireless addition is iPhone Wireless-G Phone for Skype (model WIP320), which should ship in early 2007 at a cost of $200. To probably no one’s surprise, it looks almost exactly the same as Netgear and Belkin’s own Wi-Fi enabled Skype phones.

On Friday December 15, Aruba Networks became the latest Wi-Fi company to file for an initial public offering, planning to raise $100 million when it gets listed on the NASDAQ in a few months. Its ticker symbol will be ARUN. The company makes WLAN controllers/switches and managed APs for enterprise customers.

Panasonic is now a Broadband Partner with Verizon Wireless. That means, in addition to selling you EV-DO equipment inside a Panasonic Toughbook laptop to support VW’s BroadbandAccess service, it can actually turn it on — you don’t have to visit the VW kiosk in the mall.

VW is also selling access via EV-DO Revision A in some markets — that’s the much faster version of EV-DO, shooting up to 3.1Mbps download speed. The network card it sells is the Sierra Wireless AirCard 595 PC Card. It goes for about $150 with a $50 rebate and two-year commitment. It will work with the older EV-DO until your location gets the Rev. A upgrade. The card works with Windows XP/2000/Vista and (soon) the MacOS.

Bluesocket says its BlueSecure WLAN suite has been tested and approved for Voice use with Vocera’s Communications Badges. The badges are big in healthcare settings and Bluesocket says it has 300 customers in that field around the world. The company also says it now supports DynamicRF which lets access points connected to BlueSecure controllers make adjustments based on radio frequency conditions, handle fast roaming, and do client load balancing.

December 14, 2006

Microsoft tackled two Wi-Fi issues this week.

First, it finally issued a fix for a long time problem in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). Users with that OS  would find that when starting up, if the Wi-Fi was turned on, the laptop would automatically connect to previously associated networks. They didn’t fix that part. But the patch does prevent the list of preferred networks from being shown to anyone in range, such as a rogue AP or laptop with ad hoc networking turned on. Nothing prevents the connection to the rogue if it has the same name/settings as a previously connected network except you handling the connection manually.

There’s also a Wi-Fi related “issue” in the new Windows Vista OS. The released version was sent out with a maximum performance setting for Wi-Fi networks turned on by default. This effectively killed any chance of the laptop using a sleep mode when connected to APs that support the power-save mode delivered courtesy of the Wireless Multimedia (WMM) tech in the 802.11e spec. Thus, the battery on the laptop dried up faster than in the previous Vista release candidate, which came out with the “medium performance” setting. Sleep time between packets makes a difference. However, the drain was no faster than under XP, which doesn’t support the sleep mode at all. Nor do most existing access points today. Which is why Microsoft put the released Vista into max performance mode in the first place. [via Ars Technica]

December 12, 2006

How much Wi-Fi equipment will ship in 2006? In-Stat and the Wi-Fi Alliance think the number will hit 200 million units, thanks to the holiday shopping season and the presence of Wi-Fi in more than just computers and routers — specifically, game consoles and the Microsoft Zune MP3 player. The expectation is 500 million in sales per year by 2009.

Kineto Wireless plans to work with picoChip on making a reference design for a UMA-enabled, low-cost,  cellular access point called a femtocell. It would be designed specifically for mobile operators to install for in-building 3G network coverage. Kineto announced similar plans with Ubiquisys in the UK in September. UMA, or Unlicensed Mobile Access, lets users switch from unlicensed Wi-Fi to licensed cellular/3G connections and back again on voice calls.

Xirrus says its Sharp Cell technology (which has a patent pending) is now available for its Array products. The Sharp Cell tech controls transmit power and the defer threshold of packets on each sectored antenna of an Array to define the edge of a coverage area, preventing a signal from bleeding past where its supposed to go (no more parking lot freeloaders). It also acts as a “good neighbor” and won’t degrade signals of neighboring WLANs. Sharp Cell will come standard in the Array from now on, and current customers can upgrade to get it for free.

VeriWave claims to have the world’s largest WLAN test lab, now open in San Jose, California. Called the WaveLab, it will be used for testing enterprise and metropolitan-sized deployments with “dozens of access points and multiple switches and controllers,” according to a statement. Using VeriWaves test applications running on the WaveTest 90 platform (three of them) the lab can check on everything from mesh to VoIP to roaming to security to quality of service (Qos). Cost of tests varies by time, scale and just how complicated you make it for them.

HP‘s new Compaq nc6400 Notebook PC is the first to have global mobile broadband. It builds in Cingular Wireless UMTS/HSDPA support so it can access UMTS or GPRS/EDGE networks in 115 countries. Cingular worked with HP on the laptop. HSDPA wireless broadband is now in 65 cities in 33 states of the U.S., providing speed of 400-700 Kilobits per second (Kbps).

December 7, 2006

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)— the Australian government body now famed for owning a U.S. patent that could cost just about all Wi-Fi players some bucks — will be demonstrating a new kind of wireless this week in New South Wales: A 6 Gigabit per second (Gbps) wireless point-to-point connection. This isn’t Wi-Fi though… it’s running in the 85GHz spectrum. They’ll use the connection to send 16 simultaneous video streams across a 250 meter distance.

The market for in-building wireless systems will grow by 20% annually according to ABI Research, reaching revenue of $3.6 billion by 2011. Analysts say in a statement that “commercial buildings will be a major focus of the in-building wireless systems industry, affecting carriers, businesses, building owners, equipment manufacturers and solutions providers.” Buildings over 100,000 square feet will mainly use distributed antenna systems. Smaller buildings will benefit from repeaters because they’re cost effective, but they don’t add network capacity, which 3G service providers will need as services get more popular.

December 6, 2006

Not to be outdone by competitor Marvell, what with its chips that deliver Draft-N and Gigabit Ethernet, Broadcom said today it’s adding Gigabit Ethernet (GigE to its friends) to the newest member of the Intensi-Fi chip family, the BCM4705. GigE will  prevent any data bottleneck caused by the paltry 10/100 Mbps speed of the wired connection. Broadcom says the chip is available today in products from Linsksys and Buffalo. The BCM4705 supports 2×2, 3×3 and 4×4 antenna configurations for the Draft-N MIMO connection and integrates USB 2.0 host and device interfaces.

Alvarion has new products combining WiMax and Wi-Fi. The BreezeMAX WI2 and BreezeACCESS WI2 are for carriers looking to provide Wi-Fi for client connections using WiMax for backhaul. Each is just a ruggedized, outdoor Wi-Fi AP that connects to a power source and uses existing Alvarion BreezeMAX or BreezeACCESS VL units for the WiMax part.

Xirrus is offering a guaranteed upgrade plan to 802.11n. Sign up for the Upgrade Guarantee Program and when 11n is fully cooked you can get new modules for your Xirrus Array supporting full 802.11a/b/g/n. It will only cost either 30% of the list price of the Array module at the time you upgrade, or 45% of the price in three annual payments. It’s not free, but TANSTAAFL. Xirrus does pay for shipping, though.

Japan’s OKI, providers of VoIP, will be working directly with Aruba Networks on sales and marketing and, come 2007, joint technology development. It’s all part of Aruba’s push into the F/MC market, where Japan takes the lead. OKI already has some low end APs it sells, but will look to Aruba to unwire small enterprises in the country.

New tech name alert! BetaNews says that after we’re done with EV-DO Rev A (just now being installed), then the faster EV-DO Rev B, there won’t be a (ready for the full name?) CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Revision C. Instead, the technology— by then running at 280 Mbps downsteam — will be redubbed Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB). This probably won’t happen until 2009. Currently there are 44.4 million users of EV-DO services.

December 5, 2006

Network Chemistry has a trio of announcements today. First, it brought its RFprotect Endpoint software to the smartphone market after success on Wi-Fi laptops. It will run on phones with operating systems from Microsoft and Symbian, extending security from the RFprotect policy servers to those handhelds. The company also updated its Wireless Threat Index report  based on data collected from Network Chemistry deployments in business and government. The index saw an increase of WLAN usage (8.2% more) but with it an increase in potential VPN policy violations (11.8%) and ad-hoc network attempts (9.5%). The report is available for free at the company Web site. Also available for free is a new booklet produced in cooperation with Wiley Publishing: Securing the Mobile Enterprise for Dummies. Using RFprotect, naturally.

Atheros has announced the AR5007EG, which it says is the “most-integrated single-chip” for 802.11g around. It puts not only the MAC, baseband, and radio on the same CMOS-based silicon, but includes the low noise amplifier (LNA) and power amplifier (PA) as well. This means fewer components on the circuit board and thus a lower cost. The chip is directed at OEMs of entry-level notebooks and even desktops and other client equipment. It is not, however, a low-power chip for handsets. AR5007EG has been sampling with customers since September and Atheros says despite the integration it continues to perform at the same or better standards as previous Atheros chips as well as against Intel’s Centrino. (Too bad they don’t give it a cooler name.)

Vocera has upgraded its system software to version 4.0, to be released sometime this month. This gives the company’s cool Star Trek-like Wi-Fi communication badges better administration and a performance boost. Specifically, under 4.0, now 4,200 simultaneous users can log on (up from 1,800). A clustering technology speeds up failover to just a few seconds to re-establish lost voice contact. Phone calls can now be directly connected to a badge without using voice commands. And the software will do an automatic log out of anyone who’s shift is over, thus clearing users from the system.

AirMagnet is playing Scrooge. It has used its products to test the signal strength of a WLAN in a typical office and found that the introduction of that most nefarious of items — holiday decorations — kills performance. Signal strength dropped 25%, signals deteriorated at 1/3 the previous distance, and the distribution of the signal was “uneven.” The company goes on to warn that anything new in the enterprise environment, from decorations to microwave ovens to office shelving to that new guy down in accounting with the shiny, bald head (AirMagnet didn’t really say that last one, but would you be surprised if it did?) could deflect, absorb, or otherwise mess with your Wi-Fi. So don’t be surprised if IT puts the kibosh on your stylish chili pepper Xmas lights.

SMC Networks makes a Skype phone. Now there’s a bundle including that phone with the La Fonera, the $5 router supporting the FON network. Together they come with 500 minutes of SkypeOut (outgoing calls to POTS lines) service and sell for $160 on Skype.com to US and European users.

BelAir Networks is among the first of the wireless broadband mesh equipment vendors to announce support of the “restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment” spec, also known as RoHS, as required by the European Union. A similar requirement starts in California on January 1, 2007, with China and Korea requiring in later next year. RoHS means using environmentally-friendly parts in all aspects of a product, right down to the chips.

Axesstel of Hong Kong is going to sell a gateway for EV-DO Rev A deployments that integrates a 4-port Ethernet switch and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi router inside. The products are part of the MV400 Series which vary in megahertz output from 450MHz up to 1900MHz.

ArrowSpan’s MeshAP products have been tested as compatible with controllers from Nomadix, specifically the AG 3000 access gateway which supports 200 concurrent users. ArrowSpan sells three MeshAP products, the 1100 for indoor 802.11b/g, the 2100 for outdoor b/g, and the 5100 for outdoor 11a/b/g.

December 4, 2006

Colubris announced plans today for  a big push to get more traction in the enterprise wireless LAN market, with a focus on verticals like manufacturing, healthcare, and education. This includes new products: Colubris MSC-5100 MultiService Controller for small, medium, and branch offices; Colubris Operating System v5 to power it and other Colubris hardware, which includes the company’s Local Mesh Protocol;  Visitor Management Tool software to let non-IT people allow guest access, and the Colubris WCB-200 Wireless Client Bridge for attaching Ethernet-based legacy products like printers to the WLAN.

Trapeze, Aruba, Cisco, and Bluesocket are the big names in wireless LAN security. This is based on a study conducted by ABI Research and ABI Vendor Matrix, which found IT people aren’t waiting for standards and are happy to take on a vendor’s proprietary techniques. On the “Innovation Axis” Cisco scores highest, followed in order by Bluesocket, Trapeze, and Aruba. They say there’s a significant gap after that to other vendors, with HP as a potential dark horse.

December 1, 2006

TRENDnet is offering a new USB 2.0 adapter to get desktop computers on the WLAN. This unit, model TEW-445UB, promises a high output power to get a 23dBm signal. It has an Atheros chip inside with eXtended Range (XR) technology to cut through interference and work well even in dead spots. The product will sell for $72 and supports security up to WPA2.

Infonetics says that sales of WLAN and WiMax equipment was up in the third quarter of 2006 by 9% from Q2, to a $9.58 billion total. WLANs for the enterprise were up 19% to $780 million (going to $3.82 billion by 2009); WiMax up 23% to $173.5 million (up to $3.26 billion by 2009); and outdoor radio equipment (including cellular equipment) had the highest jump, up 38% to $121.4 million (heading toward $35.86 billion by 2009).

InfoWorld reports that the director and general manager at Intel’s Communications Technology Lab, Alan Crouch, told IEEE Globecom 2006 Expo in San Francisco on Tuesday that pre-standard 802.11n (AKA Draft-N) will be in Centrino chips by 2007, long before ratification of the standard by the IEEE, but probably around the same time the Wi-Fi Alliance will start testing it.

Smartvue has released the S4, a surveillance camera supporting Draft-N to get higher throughput and, according to the company, 10 times the range of other 802.11-based IP camera. The camera supports Trackvue mounts that allow a user to put the hardware in place using track lighting hardware.

Gateway is selling desktop and laptop computers for consumers with Marvell’s TopDog chip inside for Draft-N support.

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