Tropos Raises Ruckus in Buildings

By Eric Griffith

July 31, 2006

The mesh maker and smart antenna system designer support each other via a long-range in-building wireless bridge.

Tropos Networks has been working on the problem of in-building access for a while. Today, it scored a partner that is all about pushing wireless signals around the inside of homes and offices, and now turns its technology toward connecting with the outdoors: Ruckus Wireless made the new MetroFlex wireless bridge to provide better in-building connections with citywide Wi-Fi networks.

MetroFlex is a CPE (customer premises equipment) that will be resold by the network providers or system integrators — it won't go direct from Tropos to end users. Expressnets is specifically listed in the press release — it provides equipment for the Mountain View, California network run by Google using Tropos hardware.

MetroFlex uses the Ruckus's smart antenna array as well as Tropos Networks' Metro Compatible Extensions Specification (TMCX) to make sure the signal can penetrate walls — a constant problem with existing metro-scale Wi-Fi.

metroflex

The MetroFlex Wireless Access Gateway — first announced back in November 2005 — is essentially a wireless modem like the DSL or cable modems of today. It does not provide a local area network in the home or office. For that, you would plug in your own wireless access point.

"It's a bridge, and by definition it links two discrete networks," says Mitch Gonzales, president of Cheetah Wireless Technologies, Inc. (CWTI). His company has deployed Tropos equipment in trials in downtown Las Vegas as well as Encinitas and Pomona in California, among other cities.

List price on the equipment is $129, but Gonzales says he's expecting to sell them for around $110, shooting for the magic number of $99 using a cell-phone model that locks users into a monthly fee to get a "free" CPE at home. CWTI is even setting up an online shopping cart to facilitate direct MetroFlex sales. Ruckus expects that other providers, such as EarthLink (a big Tropos equipment user), will get in the act and subsidize MetroFlex units. (Nothing is official with EarthLink yet, however.)

"Here's the thing most people don't understand in the market — lots of people think they just need Centrino [based laptops]. But people want networks in the home and business. You only want to connect direct to a network when you're traveling or out of town. That's when you look for public access," says Gonzales. "Having a Ruckus device is the key to doing that."

Like cable and DSL modems, the MetroFlex CPE gives the network provider extra power and insight into the customer side of the connection. The provider can adjust settings, confirm connections, even push down software updates to the device as needed. To set up an internal wireless network, the customer just plugs an access point into the MetroFlex — they don't even need a full router, as those functions, including hardware firewall, are built in.  

If you turn on encryption from the access point to your local computers, Gonzales says you get full "end-to-end security," which is not something you'll find on public access Wi-Fi networks. MetroFlex itself supports WPA-PSK and 802.1X authentication.

Gonzales says CWTI has tested the MetroFlex for about two months, first in the lab and then with beta testers. They even tried it with mesh equipment from their other preferred provider, BelAir Networks. Tropos has mentioned several times that the TMCX technology should improve connections between not just their equipment but others' as well, and CWTI says that appears to be the case — but that BelAir always had better building penetration anyway. Gonzales considers the BelAir equipment a "specialty product" in that regard, as it uses focused antennas and multiple radios. "I could do that with Tropos equipment if I want to unscrew it, put in panel antennas, but then I'm engineering it," he says. What Tropos lacked in penetration, Gonzales says, it provides in value. Perhaps the Ruckus MetroFlex will mean the penetration is there as well.

Ruckus is not the first TMCX user. Hong Kong-based PePLink was the first, back in May.

Other Tropos customers trying the Ruckus MetroFlex include Veraloft, Atria Networks, Rightway Online, CoastSide.net, and ILS.net.



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