Mesh Comes to WiMax

By Eric Griffith

September 19, 2005

SkyPilot will combine a Fujitsu WiMax chip with its mesh networking software to bring multi-hop backhaul capability to service providers.

SkyPilot Networks of Santa Clara, California hasn't made as big a splash in the metropolitan-sized mesh network market as its competition, but that might change as it puts its Synchronous Mesh Protocol (SMP) to work with long-distance, high-throughput WiMax technology.

The company has picked Fujitsu's WiMax System-on-Chip (SOC) as its platform of choice. SMP will be added as a layer on top of the 802.16-2004 standard used by Fujitsu.   

Brian Jenkins, vice present of product management at SkyPilot, says traditional point-to-multipoint (P2MP) WiMax, using base stations broadcasting to multiple customer premises units (CPEs), has "limited scalability -- mesh is the exact opposite. There's no base station, but lots of smaller deployments with limited range. However, they have multiple hops and redundancy."

SkyPilot equipment uses sectorized antennas to replicate the P2MP benefits. Placed in an array, the antennas provide 360° coverage but with "all the specialties of mesh," says Jenkins. He lists those specialties as traffic routing, fault tolerance, scalable capacity and load balancing.

"Our array can do point-to-multipoint, but also mesh," says Jenkins, by "using standard protocols to interoperate, but adding value with the mesh on top of it."

SkyPilot is also fully embracing the public safety market by supporting the 4.9GHz (4.940-5.150) frequency band reserved in the United States  and some other countries for first responder use. All of SkyPilot's products will also come in a 4.9GHz version, at the same price as the 5GHz versions.

SkyPilot equipment consists of the SkyGateway base stations to connect to the Internet; the base stations communicate with SkyExtenders, the mesh network nodes, and SkyConnectors, the customer premises equipment (CPE).

SkyPilot's current mesh architecture is in place with about 125 customers. Many of those customers are not announced, preferring to appear self-sufficient. Today, for example, the company just revealed that SkyPilot equipment is being used by MetroFi for Wi-Fi service throughout Santa Clara and nearby Cupertino (home of Apple Computer). Those networks are a mix of SkyGateway and dual-band SkyExtender mesh nodes (which integrate a Wi-Fi AP). With about 25 nodes per square mile using 5GHz spectrum for backhaul, SkyPilot covers approximately 20 square miles in the two cities.

Plans to move into more and more municipal markets will be helped by new interoperability partnerships SkyPilot is launching with companies like AirPath for subscriber services, Ekahau for site surveys, Funk Software for authentication software, and many others including IntraISP, NetMotion Wireless, Nomadix, Padcom, PePLink, Pronto Networks, and Zcomax Technologies.

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