Proxim AP Offering Beckons to Service Providers

By Ted Stevenson

November 19, 2002

The latest addition to the ORiNOCO lineup brings down startup costs dramatically while offering a host of new management and ease-of-use features aimed at making it a natural access point for public hotspot installations.

The folks at Proxim Inc. are betting on a horse named Public Access. The bet takes the form of a new hardware offering, announced yesterday, called the ORiNOCO AP-2500, an evolved companion product to the company's time-tested and widely-deployed AP-2000 wireless local area network (WLAN) access point.

ISP-Planet chatted last week with Proxim's Director of Product Marketing and Business Development, Ken Haase, about the AP-2500 and its place in the ORiNOCO product line.

According to Haase, analysts see the public access market as a $300 million to $500 million opportunity by 2005. "We think it will be bigger; much bigger," said Haase. In line with this vision, Proxim crafted the AP-2500 to level the playing field, allowing smaller players to compete with the regional and national providers who otherwise would dominate this market through sheer economic muscle.

In a nutshell, the AP-2500 is an AP-2000 (complete with its dual-radio capability and robust security features) with host of new management and ease-of-use features aimed at making it a natural for public hotspot installations (as well as some specialized applications in the enterprise setting).

Craig Mathias, principal consultant, Farpoint Group, described the AP-2500 as "a valuable and logical extension to a proven product [the AP-2000]."

Public presence

First and foremost, the AP-2500 boasts robust public access gateway functionality, including extensive support for RADIUS and other authentication, authorization and accounting ( AAA) systems. That is, ISPs can easily hook the AP-2500 into their existing authentication and billing systems. Also built in are LAN management software, a portal server, a firewall, and a "service selection gateway." (More on this below.)

Addressing the security needs that are of so much concern to many WLAN users and administrators, the AP-2500 supports VPN tunnels and WEP Plus, and will readily support migration to 802.11i when that specification is finalized.

End-user convenience is another target the AP-2500's designers had in their sights. Users can connect to the access point using any standard web browser, and are automatically redirected to a portal page that lists local services.

Access is further simplified by a new technology Proxim calls Dynamic Address Translation. DAT eliminates all the headaches that result from users' computers being configured with incompatible IP addresses. The AP-2500 will connect users to the Internet whatever the address setting, and the address translation technology will not interfere with any VPN tunnels they might be using.

Profitable thinking

Haase stressed the importance of another unique feature of the AP-2500: built-in bandwidth management. "The ability of a provider to offer tiered service can mean the difference between profitable and unprofitable operation," he said. The service selection gateway, mentioned above, lets users choose among multiple service levels (throughput rates)-at different price points.

Not only does this make for a differentiated, rather than generic, service offering, it gives providers an opportunity to grow revenue by offering premium performance levels.

Another AP-2500 feature with revenue-generating potential is the so-called walled garden, an optional portal page that the service provider or hotspot venue owner can use for advertising or other promotion of its own goods or services, or make available to others for those purposes.

For example, a customer waiting to have new tires mounted at an auto service center might log onto the WLAN and, during the login process, would encounter a web page carrying announcements of current tune-up specialsor, if the service provider was using the walled garden, Internet service subscription packages.

Flexible deployment
According to Haase, the AP-2500's design makes it adaptable to a number of different installation scenarios. In a preconfigured version, it becomes an inexpensive hotspot-in-a-box that a venue owner can purchase and install with little or no assistance, and hook up to the service provider's broadband Internet connection.

For a service provider, selling to multiple small, "single-cell" venues, such as convenience stores or coffee shops, it puts the security intelligence at the network edge, but allows centralized management and interoperability with its existing authentication and billing systems.

The AP-2500's dual radio slots make it possible to offer both a private network and a public oneor 802.11a and 802.11bin a single location. This has more applicability to enterprise deployments, where, for example, lobbies, waiting rooms, and conference rooms can offer open "guest" access, while the rest of the network remains private, but it can certainly be exploited in a small-business setting as well.

Bottom line

Above all, says Haase, whatever the deployment, it brings down startup costs dramatically. "By pushing the intelligence out to the network edge and building it into the access point, you eliminate the need for costly Universal Service Gateways, at $3,000 to $5,000 each," he said.

Furthermore, Haase maintains, the AP-2500's flexible network management capabilities coupled with the foolproof user login technology make for lower operating costs and a diminished customer service burden.

The ORiNOCO AP-2500 is available for shipping today at $1,095 per unit.

Reprinted from ISP-Planet.

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