Propagating Some AP Tech

By Eric Griffith

December 14, 2004

While not a household name, over the last two years Propagate Networks has grown steadily, increased partners, garnered investment -- and now has about 60 pending patents on its self-configuring technology.

For its second birthday this month, Propagate Networks of Acton, Mass., gave itself 60 pending patents as a present.

The patents have been applied for with the U.S. patent office to protect the technology Propagate developed called AutoCell. It's what the company calls "cognitive radio firmware," which when installed on Wi-Fi infrastructure equipment, helps a network in three areas: it automates the power output of access points, taking them from a stealth mode up to a radio splash for extra range if needed; it automatically selects the right channel for APs so they don't overlap; and finally, it handles user load balancing so no single AP gets all the traffic all the time.

The applied-for patents cover the gamut of the AutoCell technology's features, including every little algorithm that runs the firmware.

"From our perspective, we're really starting to move," says Sylvio Jelovcich, the company's vice president of marketing.

In the two years since its launch by a group of industry veterans like president Gary Vacon, the company has grown to 35 employees, located in both Massachusetts and in Shanghai, China. While the main development is done in the U.S., Jelovcich says "there's enough work to do with original design manufacturers (ODMs) in China" to keep a staff busy there. Such partners include Accton Technology Corp. of Taiwan, which uses AutoCell in its designs for WLAN equipment manufacturers.

AutoCell isn't something anyone can just download and run—it has to be integrated by hardware manufacturers to work with its systems. To date, the biggest name partners Propagate has landed are probably Netgear, which builds AutoCell into its low-cost WG302 802.11g ProSafe wireless access point for businesses, and switch maker Chantry Networks.

Chantry's recent buyout by Siemens might have seemed like a possible worry for Propagate (another partner, ReefEdge, has been seeing some hard times of late, for example), but Jelovcich thinks it won't affect the Propagate deal, and he's probably right—Siemens, through its Venture Capital arm, was one of the companies that helped push $8 million into the Propagate coffers during its latest C-round of funding. To date, the company has raised $14 million through investors like Motorola.

Patent-wise, the company says there are no immediate plans to start using them as a court-backed bludgeon against potential competitors. "Our focus is on growth and adding intellectual property to the portfolio," says Jelovcich. "We want to compete at that level. A patent portfolio does that."

Growth and patents are nice, but with only a few partners to speak of so far, Propagate would seem to be struggling to get into the mainstream consciousness of WLAN providers. That might change a bit with its latest partner—not a hardware vendor, but an educator.

AutoCell hardware will soon be used as part of the CWSP (Certified Wireless Security Professional) wireless LAN course, taught in 15 labs around the U.S. as part of the CWNP (Certified Wireless Network Professional) program run by Planet3 Wireless out of Atlanta. While focused on security, the use of Propagate-powered equipment in the course will show off AutoCell's RF management capabilities, according to Jelovcich.

Showing off the technologies' channel selection, load-balancing and power configuration is exactly what Propagate wants—the more IT people and users it can entice by showing off its features, the better the chance they'll ask vendors to partner with Propagate to get AutoCell.

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