Netgear Learns to Adjust

By Eric Griffith

September 27, 2004

The company is the first to ship products utilizing the promising AutoCell technology that lets WLAN products automatically reconfigure themselves for best signal strength and load balancing.

Do you own the Netgear ProSafe 802.11g Wireless Access Point (Model: WG302) or the ProSafe 802.11a/b/g Dual Band PC Card (Model: WAG511)? If so, there's a little bit of firmware upgrade you can download to turn it into the first commercial product with the AutoCell "cognitive radio" software which automatically configures WLAN products for better performance.

AutoCell was created by Propagate Networks of Acton, Mass. They announced the technology last year along with a number of partner companies that would incorporate the tech, including Bluesocket, ReefEdge, and Netgear.

AutoCell is capable of a few different feats. It will automatically adjust the power used by an access point to increase or decrease the range of a unit as needed. It will change the channel the access point is using dynamically to prevent interference. It will automatically shunt users to other access points to do load balancing, making sure no single AP is overloaded by users. All of these things can be monitored and controlled via a central interface called AutoCell View, which lets you view the entire radio environment in 2D. A trial version is available online, but the full version is $199.

The client card WAG511 will also have a Rapid Roaming feature so that when used with the WG302 AP (or other AutoCell APs of the future) it can quickly re-associate to the network when mobile. Such clients are automatically moved to the most underused AP in range.

AutoCell is not required in Wi-Fi clients to work with AutoCell APs, however. According to Sylvio Jelovcich, the vice president of marketing at Propagate, "one AutoCell enabled access point like the WG302 will increase overall network performance. It'll monitor radio frequency patterns and make the proper selections."

However, using an AutoCell client can mean some extra security, as the network can be set to work only with those systems, and thus will power down at the perimeter to make sure non-AutoCell products can't get access.

It's been a few months since the Netgear partnership was established, but Lianne Caetano at Netgear says the delay in getting AutoCell into her company's products was due to having a longer beta testing cycle for an SMB product. However, Netgear likes the software enough that it has been using it in-house since March.

"We've been fine tuning and adjusting it since that time," Says Caetano.

Netgear, based in Santa Clara, Calif., is known for its consumer-side products as well, but Caetano says the company is still evaluating a need for the Propagate technology on the home network side. If it sells well with the current products, it's more than likely that it will be offered in many more products. For now, they're looking forward to the market advantage they'll have with the technology with SMBs.

The firmware for the two Netgear products is now available at the company Web site.

Propagate, which recently got an influx of working capital from Motorola Ventures , says that ReefEdge's support for AutoCell is coming soon.

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