Innovation on the Show Floor

By Alex Goldman

December 09, 2003

Jupitermedia's Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo in San Jose showcased all the changes in the rapidly-evolving wireless Internet industry.

The Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo closed on Friday afternoon last week, after three days of exhibits filled to capacity, and four days of avidly-attended interactive conference sessions.

Conference sessions featured the show's regular day-long ISP Mini-Forum with appearances by Marlon Schafer, founder of rural WISP Odessa Office Equipment of Odessa, Wash.; Doug Luce, founder of urban ISP and hotspot provider Telerama of Pittsburgh, Penn.; Jack Unger, founder of peripatetic seminar specialist Wireless Infonets; and Tim Sanders, founder of consulting and analyst firm The Final Mile of Asheville, NC.

The show floor was equally dazzling, with over a hundred exhibitors. We spoke to those whose business has an ISP component. In this article, we only have room for brief sketches, but we will be following up with most of the companies we met, filling in the picture with more detailed articles.

Honolulu, Hawaii-based Firetide produces a mesh wireless product that garnered one of five coveted "Best of Show" awards. We'll be following up with an article on the technology, and also on the company's two partnership programs, one of which is very friendly to small WISPs.

Reston, Va.-based BelAir Networks had its own mesh idea. The company's radios have four antennas, but only one is a point-to-multipoint radio for distributing the signal. The other three each provide an individual, self-configuring point-to-point backhaul to another BelAir radio.

Troy, NY-based MapInfo was showcasing its data products. Comprehensive nationwide U.S. listings are expensive but may be valuable for some readers. An interactive map of all NPA/NXXs sells for $13,000, a similar map CLECs' coverage areas and switch locations sells for $7,500, and a contour map of the U.S. sells for $22,500. Statewide data is one-fifth to one-tenth the price of nationwide data. Fiber, towers, and other useful telecommunications data are also available.

Paul Hanlon of London based TTPCom, a company with products in all wireless protocols, said that on the consumer side, a wealth of new applications will be unlocked with the UltraWideBand standard (802.15.3) is ready. The company looks forward to delivering HDTV as well as DVD movies within the home to multiple devices. In a world where everybody has a 20 GB iPod, homeowners will want to be able to transfer that amount of data quickly to and from their home entertainment system. Founded in 1988, publicly owned, and focused on the consumer market, the company was a relative veteran compared to many on the show floor.

But nearby sat the booth of Orland Park, Ill.-based Andrew Corporation, which was founded on Jan. 1, 1937. The company was one of the world's first antenna suppliers. Today, it claims to be the leading manufacturer of PCS cellular antennas, earthstation satellite antennas, terrestrial microwave antennas, and coaxial cable. "We're not yet number one in the WISP market," said Michael Horan, business development manager for broadband access. He said that when WISPs "realize they need to spend an extra $10 for an antenna," his company's market share will rise. The booth had a Magnesium alloy steel antenna which retains its shape under high stress, such as under heavy wind. He was prepared to take down the antenna and jump on it, but we declined the demonstration.

At booth of Chicago-based PCTEL, representatives from Cometa Networks were learning about the company's Segue Controller, an appliance that manages RADIUS and billing for up to 200 access points per box. The company showcased the launch of its SAM software which turns any notebook or desktop PC into an access point.

Nearby, Ross McKee, founder and president of Norcross, Ga.-based Access Data Technologies, an integrator, was demonstrating his company's iGenie product. It's a captive computer for hotspot owners that it designed to be secure and easy to use, so that users can buy access to the Internet or to the games stored on it, but cannot abuse the computer by, for example, loading spyware onto it. The company claims that hotspot owners in busy locations can see their traffic rise exponentially, especially in locations where users are not business travelers such as homes for the elderly. "I have women in hair salons paying $4 an hour just to play solitaire," said McKee.

The company charges $1500 plus a revenue share for the iGenie, although in NetNearU hotspots the revenue share is paid by NetNearU. The Unit is hardened and weatherproof. "Waterproofing is really important in sports bars," chuckles McKee.

Founded in 2001, Morgan Hill, Calif.-based Airya sells relatively cheap point-to-point antennas. The company even discloses prices in its product list. They use 802.11a for faster backhaul, reaching distances of up to 30 miles. The 5 mile product has a beamwidth of 9 degrees, and the 2.5 mile product has a beamwidth of 18 degrees. The 2.5 mile product sells for $1,199 per pair.

Many more products were on display, including VoIP solutions, spectrum analyzers, and RF mapping software. This is just a brief overview of the ISP-related products we saw. The Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo world tour next year will visit the following five cities: Toronto, Tokyo, Baltimore, London, and, once more, San Jose. See you there.

Reprinted from ISP-Planet.

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