Mesh Extends Into Buildings

By Eric Griffith

May 04, 2006

Tropos will provide best practices spec to vendors creating devices that connect to mesh networks; FireTide will sell a new AP with indoor and outdoor enclosures.

Sure, the average metropolitan mesh network might have a big footprint and great throughput, but what about getting it to work with equipment inside buildings? It's not always easy, but companies like FireTide are making equipment that will bring the signal from the outside in.

And the competition at Tropos Networks thinks a specification it has developed for third-party devices will make it easier.

"What we've done is taken all our learning in deployments and put together requirements you can think of as best practices for client devices to operate in a metro-scale Wi-Fi network," says Chris Rittler, Vice President of Business Development and Product Management for Tropos.

The requirements are called Tropos Metro Compatible Extensions (TMCX) -- but unlike extensions like Cisco's CCX, which is proprietary to Cisco WLAN infrastructure, the TMCX are requirements that benefit any client connecting to any metropolitan-scale wireless network and built on current standards.

Of course, there's some extra benefit for Tropos networks. Rittler admits, "If you attach to Tropos equipment [using TMCX in client hardware], you get even better performance." Tropos does not plan to introduce the extensions before any standards body to make them official for the entire industry.

Still, he claims there is nothing proprietary about the extensions. They will tackle regular wireless LAN issues of radio frequency performance, security, Quality of Service (QoS) and network management. For example, TMCX will specify use of WPA2/802.11i for security as a minimum, and implementation of WME or WMM services at the device level for QoS.

"You'd be surprised how many devices are built in the simplest form possible, and not complete," says Rittler, citing even brand new products coming out that only use the old WEP protocol for security, even though WPA long ago surpassed it.

The first company to issue a product using TMCX is Hong Kong-based PePLink, which is making  customer premises equipment (CPEs) for homes and small offices. The first is the Surf 200BG, which will be the gateway router between the mesh network doing backhaul and an internal wireless network on the premises. The company will also be making a 400BG (the difference between the two products is 200mW and 400mW power output, respectively). Tropos will also supply the PePLink and the PePLink Central Management System to its customers.

The only other announced TMCX supporter at this time is Ruckus Wireless. Rittler says a number of other unannounced manufacturers are currently working on integration of TMCX. "We're working with all classes of client products, from laptop vendors to chipset and firmware makers as well, as a lot of the functionally of Wi-Fi comes from the chipsets," he says. He expects participation in the program to be very high by this time next year. It doesn't hurt that outside of signing a simple licensing agreement, there's no real technology swap here, so the program is free to all vendors.

FireTide, meanwhile, announced a certification program for its VARs and resellers last month, but it doesn't extend to third-party vendors. Instead, to make sure the mesh goes inside walls, the company has a new line of HotPoint mesh access points  with models for both outside and in, which can be used on a HotPort mesh network, or even used alone. The new products, due June 30, will include an indoor unit with a plenum-rated case that can mount anywhere. The ruggedized outdoor version doesn't need an external power supply. Both feature the full suite of Wi-Fi features, such as WPA2 security, multiple SSIDs, and QoS, through a new release of the company's HotView management software, moving to version 3.3.

"We've made an effort to make sure the feature set in the access point and on the mesh are tightly hooked up, to better serve latency and real-time applications and better serve mobile apps," says Magnus Gunnarsson, Vice President of Product Management at FireTide.



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