WiFi Wireless Tunes in UHF

By Ed Sutherland

February 15, 2005

This startup says standard Wi-Fi and even WiMax are already outdated compared to what it plans to do with the far off standard of IEEE 802.22 for 'WRANs'.

Little-known startup company WiFi Wireless believes the future of wireless is as close as your television. They say when the FCC opened the UHF band to data broadcasting, it made Wi-Fi and WiMax last year's technology.

WiMax technology is outdated, says Matthew Walusko, chief operating officer of WiFi Wireless. "Why would you want a Playstation 1?" asks Walusko, speaking from the company's new Alisio Viejo, Calif. headquarters.

WiFi Wireless' product, the WiFi Key, employs a proprietary chipset along with technology from Bell Labs. The device, based on the future 802.22, spec, is not set for shipping until mid-2005, promises a 1.55 MB/sec connection supporting up to 25,000 simultaneous users with a 10-mile range. All, the company claims, without degrading performance.

Formed in June 2004 by satellite telecom company Planetel, WiFi Wireless was created from Sunburst Resources, which Walusko called "an empty shell not doing anything." Using the intellectual property from recently purchased Avalon RF, WiFi Wireless has begun its assault on Wi-Fi and WiMax as the dominant factors in wireless networking.

Standard Wi-Fi (802.11) systems are currently confined to locations with a limited radius. WiFi Wireless uses Space-Time technology in conjunction with UHF frequencies. Using UHF allows WiFi Wireless to "provide 10 miles of service from the POP, rather than the conventional Wi-Fi retail space application," according to the company.

In addition to providing Internet access through the UHF television band, WiFi Wireless says its hardware "allows up to 25,000 simultaneous users without degradation." No access points are needed. The WiFi Key "doesn't need that. There is no middle-man," says Walusko.

The WiFi Key operates on the 56Mhz to 2.5GHz band. Internally, the WiFi Key boasts a chipset barely more than 1 inch high and wide. It's like "an iPod shrunk down," explains the Walusko. The chipset includes two boards: an MPEG encoder for video and a space-time receiver. The product includes an antenna and a USB connection. Externally, the gear will eventually be wrapped in injection-molded plastic, according to Walusko.

In December, WiFi Wireless announced Avalon RF would produce the WiFi Key chipset. Soon afterwards, WiFi Wireless purchased a majority interest in the El Cajon, Calif-based company. Today, it announced a 40% stake in unknown called ViMax.

"The need to have in-house technology controls is an important asset to continue to fuel the growth of WiFi's technology sector," said Gene Curcio, WiFi Wireless CEO. Curcio is also President of Planetel, WiFi Wireless' parent company.

While Walusko hesitates on specifics, he says the company initially will target military customers. WiFi Wireless plans to demonstrate its technology to the South Korean Agency of Defense Development and the Korean Veterans Association. Avalon RF's Website mentions its base of customers including "military, US Army, Australian Army, Military and homeland security prime contractors." Possible applications might include unmanned vehicles or covert security. The prime consumer application Walusko mentions is providing Internet service to remote areas, a prime driver for the popularity of 802.16, or WiMax.

"This will surely change the whole 'hotspot' delivery for the Internet," said Curcio.

The field test—one of 20 for company officials and potential customers—according to Walusko, demonstrated two laptop computers equipped with the USB-connected WiFi Key chip and separated by seven miles were able to communicate.

"The test utilized two laptop PCs with the WiFi Wireless chip on both units, using less than 1 watt of power to transmit data," according to an early January announcement.

While Walusko plans no public tests, he does expect to announce commercial testing within the next two months.

What's 802.22?

In November, the IEEE held the first meeting of the 802.22 working group on Wireless Regional Networks, or WRANs. The group was created following a May 2004 FCC decision to permit data transmissions over TV channels 2 to 51.

According to the IEEE, products based on 802.22 will "be able to serve those markets [rural, underserved areas] and increase the efficiency of spectrum utilization currently allocated to, but unused by, the TV broadcast service."

"Our goal is to equal or exceed the quality of DSL or cable modem services, and to be able to provide that service in areas where wireline service is economically infeasible, due to the distance between potential users," said Carl R. Stevenson, Interim Chair of the IEEE P802.22 Working Group.

Plenty of hurdles remain before 802.22 is widely deployed. Topping the list is the FCC's requirement that data transmissions avoid colliding with TV broadcasts. Gear designed for 802.22 would need a GPS receiver able to check its location against a database, ensuring a frequency is clear of UHF signals.

Furthermore, any 802.22 standard is years away. While Walusko says his WiFi Key will be compatible with both 802.16 and 802.22, the device is designed with WiBro in mind. WiBro is South Korea's own 802.16e. Although the WiMax Forum is expected to include WiBro in any standard certification.

802.22 will enhance already-existing 802.11 technology, as well as the final WiMax standard.

802.22 will "give IEEE 802.11 wireless local area networks in outlying areas a fatter pipe for receiving and transmitting data," according to Stevenson. "It also will complement IEEE 802.16 metropolitan area networks, which do not include cognitive radio functions for sharing TV spectrum." The IEEE 802.22 working group next meets in March.

Originally published on .

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