FireTide Shows Off Mesh Router

By Eric Griffith

September 17, 2003

This start-up's HotPoint product lets IT setup a self-configuring 'instant network' using existing access points but with no Ethernet needed -- it uses an 802.11b signal for backhaul.

FireTide of Honolulu, Hawaii -- formerly Landmark Networks -- is in La Jolla, Calif., this week as one of the select few showing at the DEMOmobile 2003 conference. Their product: the HotPoint Wireless Mesh Router.

This "radio agnostic" unit, the company's first product since it launched this year, looks like a standard access point with dual-antennas. But the initial HotPoints don't include the access point themselves. They hook into third-party access points where you'd usually plug in the Ethernet connection back to the wired network. A HotPoint on each access point will then form what FireTide calls "a self-configuring, self-healing mesh network -- a Firetide Wireless Instant Network." Only one HotPoint needs to be hooked into the wired network or the Internet for the entire mesh to be available.

"Wireless is a misnomer," says FireTide CEO Tareq Hoque. "It still takes a lot of cabling. Plus, wireless is still tedious -- it's a long installation process. If you ever want to expand or reconfigure, that's a problem, since the wires you need to go to the access points are a fixture of the building."

FireTide hopes the HotPoints, which cost $799 each and will ship in volume in January 2004, will alleviate such issues. With only AC power, several HotPoints in an area will seek each other out and self-configure. The mesh only concerns the backhaul here -- the end user is not part of the mesh, they only connect to their nearest access point, as usual.

The HotPoint will supports access points from a variety of vendors, including SMC, Proxim, Cisco, D-Link, and Netgear. The first generation HotPoint will use 802.11b for that connection, and will do so on a channel not used by the access points.

"When a HotPoint boots, it listens for access points... and it tries to use a channel not in use by them," says Hoque. "We survey the landscape before we put our signal into it."

Each HotPoint is a full-fledged router build on FreeBSD. There are no centralized routing functions on the mesh. Hoque says that prevents a single point of failure in the system, which he says is an improvement over similar mesh backhaul systems like that of Strix Systems. And the more HotPoints the better, as the topology becomes more dynamic. They can scale up to handle thousands of users, but individual units will turn off when not needed, since they all share the same routing tables.

Future versions of the HotPoint may use higher bandwidth Wi-Fi for backhaul, such as 802.11a or 11g, and might also build in the access point functions. The current units are not user upgradeable.

"We think wireless networks need to be truly wireless," says Hoque. "Our competition is really the electrical workers, the guys that install data cabling for a facility. Our goal is to get those folks focused back on lights and electrical appliances."



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