BelAir: Meshing Quite Nicely - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell

October 12, 2004

"That has really resonated with the hospitality industry," Belanger says. "It means you don't have to crawl around the hotel putting wired network nodes on every floor and disturbing the guests."

The Sheraton Maui in Lahaina, Hawaii, first announced in August, is a case in point. The BelAir network covers the entire 23 acre cliff-side resort property, inside and out, right down to the ocean. The challenge was that the hotel placed restrictions for aesthetic reasons on where it would allow infrastructure to be installed. It allowed nothing between the main building and the cliff on which it sits overlooking the Pacific. Using the BelAir technology, the systems integrator was able with a small number of nodes on the land side to cover every guest room as well as public areas.

The BelAir technology is particularly suited to hotel properties with high towers. You can deploy two or three BelAir 200 units outside pointing up at the tower and achieve ubiquitous indoor coverage.

"With some venues, it's a slam dunk," Belanger says. "We offer the lowest cost per room by far. With the smaller venues, we're not always a win economically, but towers are a sweet spot for us."

While BelAir does hold some patents, they don't preclude others adopting its multi-radio approach. Indeed, the basic notion of a multi-radio mesh architecture is not original to BelAir. Proprietary wireless solutions already exist, Nortel recently introduced a Wi-Fi-based dual-radio mesh product and MeshDynamics, a chip-level company that started the whole mesh scalability debate, is "in our camp in terms of how their mesh networks work," Belanger says. BelAir's advantage is that it was first out of the gate, he adds. "We did it early. Now we see some others coming along behind."

It's not clear how much of a head start the company enjoys. It currently has between 15 and 20 deployments, none using more than 20 nodes. These include the recent Costanoa Coastal Lodge and Camp, where a two-node BelAir network is providing Wi-Fi access throughout the 40-acre resort property. The value added reseller (VAR) involded claims it would have taken 20 or more standard Wi-Fi access points.

"We covered the whole things with just two and passed their aesthetics test," Belanger says.

BelAir's original market focus was metro wide area networks. It recently announced a deployment in Lincoln, Neb., where BelAir gear is used to provide connectivity for internal applications, but no public access for now. In Encinitas, the network creates a downtown hotzone.

Belanger sees the potential for back-lash to city-run Wi-Fi access services from entrepreneurs trying to build Wi-Fi businesses, but it hasn't happened in any of the communities BelAir is currently in.

"The model we're trying to promote is collaboration between the city and service providers. We believe that's the best way to move it forward." It's coming close to that in Encinitas, where the city is working with Cheetah Wireless which will offer hotspot and residential and business fixed wireless access services.

BelAir's idea is that the city provides rights of way and access to its real estate and the service provider managing the network provides free or low-fee service to the city. Better support for multiple virtual LANs, a key enhancement in the new release of the BelAir 200 software, will make that model more viable. A city could work with a master service provider to establish wireless network infrastructure which could then be made available to multiple competing service providers. Each service provider would be on a separate VLAN with a separate SSID and separate security policies and log-on procedures.

The same model also works for indoor environments such as airports, Belanger notes. "They want one [network and one network operator] but they also want to allow other service providers in. The network could be configured as a hotspot for one client, say Sprint, but also for T-Mobile."

Besides the hot hospitality market and metro wide area applications, BelAir is also targeting major carriers, hoping to convince them to use its technology to provide broadband access services.

"We hope to announce one or two deals before the end of the year," Belanger says. "Some of our big strategies are starting to kick in now. The VARs are bringing in the smaller deals that happen faster and keep the lights on, but we're working on the big deals. They make no material contribution now, but next year we expect [the revenue contribution from direct and indirect sales] to be 50:50 or even 75:25. It depends how fast [the first carrier customers] ramp up."

BelAir does indeed have a lot to say for itself—and it includes a fair amount of substance. The question is, will anyone listen, or will it be lost in the cacophony of competing claims and counter claims. Rival Tropos definitely has more brand recognition and mindshare for now—but that's why BelAir is talking so much.

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