Motorola Turns up Muni-Wireless Heat

By Eric Griffith

January 23, 2006

The company's mesh equipment is now shipping, and its system integrator division has solidified a deal with EarthLink to unwire cities — but with another vendor's hardware.

Whether it's working with its own equipment or that of another vendor, Motorola is not holding back with plans in the municipal wireless network market this year.

Today marks the general availability of the company's MotoMesh product, multiple radio units that support both 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi with two radios as well as the 4.9 GHz band with two radios. 4.9 GHz is reserved for first responders (cops, firefighters and emergency medical services). The nodes mix Wi-Fi and MEA — Motorola's proprietary Mesh Enabled Architecture — on the radios, to avoid forcing use of VPNs, VLANs and multiple SSIDs to segment users (though these technologies are supported on MotoMesh).

The company first announced the products in March of 2005, and has about a dozen communities either deployed, or which have purchased the equipment during extended testing. According to Rick Rotondo, Director of Marketing in Motorola's Mesh Networking Group, not much has changed since the initial announcement, with the exception that the footprint of both the 2.4 and 4.9 GHz networks is about the same, because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is letting Motorola pump more power though its 4.9 GHz radios.

"When we sell the system, all the nodes have four radios in them," says Rotondo, "but you only pay for the radios you're using. If you only want municipal Wi-Fi, you only pay for the Wi-Fi radio. After you deploy, if you want to turn on the 4.9 GHz radio, you'll need only a software key from us."

Riviera Beach, Florida is one of the first MotoMesh users. Right now, it's for police use only — it was purchased with seized drug money — with the option to expand to other agencies, and to residential use, in the future. Motorola points out that, by using 4.9 GHz, communities can qualify for grants to install the system. Costs range from $100,000 to $200,000 for 30 to 160 nodes, depending on density.

Motorola's Mesh Group, born out of the acquisition of MeshNetworks, is coming relatively late to the game when it comes to municipal Wi-Fi — its original products were all proprietary. But Motorola has many divisions. One of them is signed up to be the system integrator of choice for EarthLink, the ISP that is trying to become the powerhouse behind citywide Wi-Fi networks in the United States. EarthLink already has the contract to unwire Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Anaheim, California; it’s a finalist in the running to unwire Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis, Minnesota; and is in the bidding or proposal process with several other municipalities.

However, this division of Motorola won't be using MotoMesh. Instead, it procures and installs mesh equipment from Tropos Networks. These work in tandem with Motorola's proprietary Canopy wireless and the Motowi4 WiMax-based products for long-distance backhaul.

Why doesn't EarthLink use MotoMesh, or another multi-radio mesh product, for that matter? At first, it was because Motorola came late to the Wi-Fi mesh market, but Rotondo says it's now a matter of economics: "EarthLink wants Tropos," he says. "Their model is to do low-cost residential access... they're going as cheap as possible. Frankly, the product we have coming out is a premium product compared to single Wi-Fi mesh access points like Tropos sells. Having said that, we work closely with them... all I can say is, stay tuned."

Tropos CEO Ron Sege says that with Motorola's historic focus on public safety and proprietary radios, "We strongly believe we [Tropos] are complementary with our focus on open standard radios." The company expanded its product line in 2005, including software tools for planning and optimizing metropolitan mesh networks.



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