Move the Router, Move the Paradigm - Page 2

By Alex Goldman

February 17, 2004

"It's just my personal opinion," says Nassi," but I think that what's really holding WISPs back are billing and security problems."

RF interference is also salient. "When access points first came out, they worked well," he says. "But they were configured out of the box to use maximum power. When density increases, that's the wrong thing to do." Firetide adjusts power usage according to environmental conditions.

Nassi also feels ISPs will be enthusiastic about Firetide's network management system. "It has a Java front end. There's an inventory view and a graphical mesh view. The entire mesh has a single IP address that's visible from outside. Each node has an internal IP address."

For the administrator, management is simple. "The administrator logs into the external IP with a username and password. The administrator can set names, manage keys, and view information through an XML interface to a Web browser."

Each node has a Java sever running on FreeBSD. Nodes run on 133 MHz x86 processors. The nodes have all the computing power they need to accomplish a variety of tasks. Nassi says that Firetide is seeing applications it never envisioned, which is great. It does use more power than most, 12.5 watts on average, with a peak of

Surprise deployments

The first deployment was in the kind of environment Firetide expected to serve: an office. "Our first customer was HP. They'd just completed an expensive site survey that was immediately obsolete (I don't know why it was obsolete). Firetide was up an running fast, without requiring a site survey. And if HP ever chooses to switch offices, it can take the Firetide network with it!

Speed of deployment is also a big selling point. "We build networks in two days and sometimes even half a day," says Nassi.

One company had great wireless access everywhere in the buildingexcept the boardroom. Firetide shipped three units and the network was up and running fast.

Maui's Kahului airport wanted a wireless network for devices to monitor incoming plants and animals. The airport wants to protect the state's unique ecosystem, not harm it. "They were told a test network would cost about $150,000. Then at the last minute they came to us and asked for help. We installed 11 hotspots in the terminal, tarmacs, and baggage area. The system integrator got $10,000 and the equipment cost $20,000. It was done without a network disruption.

But Nassi hadn't expected to contribute a piece of the puzzle to Shared PET, a company that loads expensive Positron Emission Tomography scanners on trucks and allows hospitals to share the machines. Firetide shipped five demo units to the company. At the hospital, one unit remains in the truck while the other four are placed anywhere in the hospital to connect to truck to the hospital LAN.

Nassi also says that customers are interested in using the boxes for video surveillance applications, but that he cannot talk about any, for obvious reasons. He will say this, however: "It's a bigger business than you'd think."

"It's not just about access points," says Barbara Cardillo, vice president in charge of marketing at Firetide (her resume includes Propel, which she named, and which also has many ex-Apple folks). "There's no Wi-Fi in this network, so we bring a wireless capability to a broader part of the marketplace."

The mesh uses a protocol called TBRPF developed by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). "We licensed the protocol. It's backed by $50 million in military investment," says Nassi. "It's robust. It was studied by tons and tons of grad students. Negotiating for the license took a long time. Since then, we've filed for patents around the technology."

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