Orthogon Demonstrates Planning Tool

By Alex Goldman

May 26, 2004

When the OFDM equipment maker's CEO visited during a quick tour, he brought a fascinating planning tool and several decades of RF engineering experience.

Meet the CEO of a company, and you can see that company's character. Ashburton, UK-based Orthogon Systems' CEO, Phil Bolt, is an engineer.

When he arrived at our offices, he had a story to tell, but it was not the scripted "on-message-only" story that some professional marketers like to craft.

Bolt's background is in fixed wireless engineering. Along with many of his Orthogon colleagues, Bolt worked for many years with Nortel Networks' fixed wireless arm.

We reviewed the company's technology. Orthogon (named after OFDM ) is a manufacturer of NLOS wireless gear. It uses several radios to broadcast the same signal in a variety of polarizations (as well as other modifications which are not disclosed). The idea is that the receiving end should be able to receive multiple, reflected, distorted copies of a signal it does not have line of sight to, and use those copies to reconstruct the original signal.

Bolt reminded us that the method not only allows the signal to travel a great distance without line of sight, but also makes links more stable, secure, and resistant to interference.

For example, most signals fade over a specific period of time, depending on the effects of diffraction, ground bounce and other factors. By combining several signals, Orthogon claims a higher level of availability (the chart showing the several fading signals with a stable combined signal is the wavy lines in the background of the company's about page).

Bolt also told us that Orthogon radios are paired and able to recognize each other. (For more on this technology, see our article Building Big, Invisible Bridges).

It became clear to us that Bolt was an engineer and not a marketer when we asked him what technologies the company was working on. To a marketer, that's an opportunity to boast. To an engineer, perhaps that question is an attempt to steal a secret. It was clear that the company thinks it has unique, valuable technology that it hopes to patent. And we'll find out about the technology some time in the future.

Then Bolt turned on his laptop and opened that company's planning tool.

Click to view larger imageTo use the tool, you need a terrain profile for a link, such as that provided us by Genesis Wireless (right), the Orthogon customer we spoke to in February.

Simply type in the terrain heights, the radio, tower height at each end, and the tool calculates link availability and throughput as well as the curvature of the land or sea. A marketer would have said the tool was flawless. Bolt, however, admitted, "of course, it's only as good as the information you put in."

He was clearly proud of the tool. "It's the only tool we know of that actually calculates the throughput and link availability. Other tools will just give you a dB number."

The tool, he said, encourages conservative planning. "It's pessimistic," he noted.

As the company's customers have become more and more comfortable with Orthogon's claims (for example, the ability to link 80 km over water or to work through a solid obstruction that's in the face of the transmitter), they have been deploying longer and more challenging links.

In response, the company has enabled customers to deploy large external antennas (which would not be necessary in most cases). "We usually don't use physical separation of the antennas," Bolt said.

But if you do deploy antennas that are 20 feet or more apart from each other, Bolt told us that you see a 20 dB improvement. Since dB is a log scale, we're talking about a hundredfold improvement!

Bolt said that most ISPs use the company's antennas for backhaul. He said that although the Motorola Canopy is a good, relatively low cost method for provisioning a dense area, it does not leave much bandwidth space for backhaul.

Orthogon OS-Geminis may emit in several frequencies from several radios at several polarizations, but, using what the company calls "Adaptive Modulation", the OS-Gemini products monitor the RF environment, and switch to channels that are less cluttered. It's supposed to be like taking a site survey every few milliseconds.

The company is writing a white paper on how to use OS-Gemini to provide backhaul for Motorola Canopy deployments.

Bolt said that sales are picking up. "We're starting to see repeat orders. Our radio is more expensive than some, but we're seeing some customers will still use our radio even for short, easy hops."

That's not bad at all for a company which, though founded in 2000, shipped its first radio less than a year ago, on June 30, 2003.

Reprinted from ISP Planet.

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