BelAir Embraces the Single Radio

By Eric Griffith

June 14, 2005

The metro mesh company's new equipment is lower cost and has preliminary support for the future mesh standard, 802.11s.

On the heels of providing for its biggest network deployment ever —4000 homes in four square miles of Galt, Calif. — BelAir Networks today announced a new product that puts it into the same camp as its biggest rival.

BelAir has long argued that multiple radios in a metropolitan-class wireless mesh hardware product were the only way to go, mainly to call into question the single radio offered by Tropos Networks. That changes with the announcement today of the BelAir 50C, the company's first single radio mesh unit.

Phil Belanger, vice president of marketing at BelAir, says the 50c will be lower cost and targets "small mesh clusters of four to eight nodes" which would, in turn, interconnect with the multi-radio BelAir 100 and 200 nodes for larger coverage. 

BelAir sees the future for metro mesh architectures having different scales from clusters (about a half mile square) using single radio nodes, to zones that contain multiple clusters connected by multi-radio units, to "superzones" that aggregate zones and connects back to the wired backbone of a network (such as the Internet). The superzone would potentially cover 15 to 18 square miles.

"As the capacity you need goes up, you replace the 50c with 100's or 200' and you can go up and up and up," says Belanger.

belair50c.jpgThe 50c will support 802.11b/g in 2.4GHz frequency, and sport a omni-directional antenna on the bottom of a pole-mountable outdoor-ready enclosure. It will be powered by AC and have an integrated battery backup. The interface to the wired network, if needed, is a simple 100Mbps Ethernet. It will support use of virtual LANs (VLANs), and multiple SSIDs. It is expected to sell for $2800 per unit, but won't be out until September.

The 50c will  support a preliminary version of the 802.11s protocol, a standard being worked on by the IEEE that would address mesh network interoperability. Belanger says it looks like .11s will be specifically targeting single radio approach to mesh, mainly indoors. This move, he says, is driven by companies that  predict a home with mesh wireless in not just the router but also the PC clients, the TV or DVR,  the game console, and more.

"[11s is] good for up to 10 nodes, but how do you build out a complete [outdoor] system?" Belanger asks. "Take one of those nodes and make it a multi-radio BelAir100. The 2.4GHz radio shares and participates in the cluster, and uses the 5GHz radio to connect back."

BelAir is also introducing new software, called BelView Network Management System (NMS). It is specific to BelAir's products, allowing single console control. It will cost $100 to $200 per node, with discounts as the number goes up.

"We've had the SNMP functionality to integrate before, so our nodes would work with systems like HP OpenView directly," says Belanger. "BelView will be kept separate. It'll show topology, what links are up, take nodes down for reconfiguration, etc." With big city deployments, the equipment will work with backend AAA systems like those from Airpath or Pronto Networks as before.

Belanger confirms that BelAir has, no surprise, responded to the Wireless Philadelphia request for proposal (RFP), seeking vendors to build out a metro WLAN there. Philadelphia has become the center of attention for the debate on whether municipal governments should run their own broadband networks, wired or wireless, against competition from private companies. Philly is avoiding the issue somewhat by creating a non-profit to run the network and license its use to carriers. Belanger expects that the planned announcement of vendors for the project, scheduled for mid- to late-July, will be delayed, and the city will build out a small zone of approximately 15 square miles, with the bulk of the work to happen next year.

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