Firetide Announces First HotZone Deployment

By Jeff Goldman

August 19, 2004

The company's new outdoor mesh product is put to use by a local provider in Culver City, Calif., to provide coverage for the influx of IT staffers coming to the area.

This week, Firetide and Wireless Hotspot announced the deployment of a free citywide wireless network in Culver City, California. The hotzone, which covers about a mile, uses three of Firetide's HotPoint 1000R Outdoor Wireless Mesh Routers. It will be officially unveiled in a ceremony hosted by the city on September 9.

Joseph Hsieh, Wireless Hotspot's President, says the deployment is a perfect fit for the two companies and for the city. "Culver City's Redevelopment Agency is trying to put more foot traffic in their up-and-coming new town," he says. "It's sort of a nascent stage of something like [Santa Monica's] Third Street Promenade about 10 or 15 years ago."

Hsieh says the Redevelopment Agency had been intrigued by the nearby City of Long Beach's wireless deployment, and is also anticipating the arrival in 2006 or 2007 of a new Symantec office in Culver City. "That means [Culver City will] get a lot of IT workers in the area, so they thought this might be a really great value add for their citizens," he says.

For now, the Culver City deployment will use either a 3Mbps DSL line or a T-1 line, with a bandwidth management and authentication system from Vernier Networks. In the future, Hsieh says, the hotzone may be expanded to cover a broader area or to provide other services, depending on the success of the initial deployment.

Firetide, which was launched last year, only began shipping the 1000R in June--the Culver City hotzone is the company's first outdoor deployment. The key benefit of the 1000R, along with the company's 1000S indoor router, is the fact that it eliminates the need for an Internet connection at every access point -- the mesh network itself is the backhaul.

Barbara Cardillo, Firetide's vice president of Corporate Marketing, says this kind of setup makes it much easier to establish a large network or hotzone. "We're eliminating a lot of the wiring that's necessary right now even for wireless networks," she says. "You can get an access point and plug it into one of our boxes, then our boxes communicate wirelessly with each other -- all you need is your initial Internet connection."

In a deployment like the one in Culver City, Cardillo says, the routers can be used for a lot more than just offering Wi-Fi access to the public. "Our typical boxes have three Ethernet ports on the back, so another way to think about the technology is as a portable Ethernet jack -- you can have an Ethernet jack wherever you want it," she says.

One of the more obvious applications is video surveillance. "Right now, if you have a university campus and you want to make sure it's secure, cameras have to be wired all over the place to get back to the central console for viewing or recording," Cardillo says. "With our technology, you can just plug a video camera into one of the Ethernet ports and you have a video surveillance network -- without doing any wiring."

Hsieh says the deployment was relatively straightforward, since there are a lot of city-owned buildings in the downtown area on which to deploy the routers. "The one challenge that we ran into was that the most ideal location was on top of a private building, the Culver Hotel, which sits in the middle of downtown," he says.

Wireless Hotspot worked with the city to approach the owners of the hotel and work out a deal, which Hsieh says has turned out to be an ideal situation for everyone involved. "They're very happy because now their hotel guests have access to wireless -- and there's nothing intrusive about the technology we're using," he says.

The deployment itself took less than a day to complete -- the real challenge, Hsieh says, was the red tape. "All of the paperwork back and forth took a couple of months," he says. "That gives you an idea of the challenges that we had to face -- but it's understandable, because you're working with tax-generated dollars, and everyone wants to make sure it makes sense."

Culver City is joining an ever-growing list of U.S. cities that are getting mesh networks to provide access throughout a downtown area from competitors like Tropos Networks and MeshNetworks. Others include the aforementioned Long Beach, as well as Cerritos, Calif.; Chaska, Minn.; and Corpus Christi, Texas.



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