Wi-Fi Product Watch: October 2006

By Wi-Fi Planet Staff

October 24, 2006

The latest Wi-Fi goodies.

Atheros Communications has had a big week — and it's only Tuesday. It announced Q3 2006 financials yesterday and revenue was up 9% from Q2, and up 74% from the same quarter in 2005 — that's six quarters of consecutive growth. With all that extra money, it decided it wants to play seriously in the Gigabit Ethernet realm (combining it with its XSpan 802.11n chips) so it bought out Taiwan-based Attansic Technology Company from ASUSTek Computer. And the company announced a milestone of 75 million Wi-Fi chips shipped to date, with almost 30 million of them shipping in 2006 alone — that's one chip per second this year.

The CUWiN (Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network) Foundation announced that it has ported its open-source mesh software architecture to the up-and-coming Meraki Mini hardware that runs NetBSD. That means buying a mesh router for your office, home, apartment or whatever can be as cheap as $50 per unit.

The Raleigh News & Observer says that Nortel Networks has launched a division out of Research Triangle Park devoted to selling mesh equipment to cities and towns, and will give new customers a half-price discount on a starter kit. The article quotes Nortel's director of municipal wireless solutions as saying its biggest competitors in the muni Wi-Fi market are Motorola and Cisco. Nortel's equipment is being used in Taipei, Taiwan to build out a 10,000 access point network covering 105 square miles, but is otherwise targeting smaller cities lacking broadband service. Other customers include Annapolis, Maryland; Richardson, Texas; Carlsbad, New Mexico; and Occoquan, Virginia.

ABI Research says in a new report that Wi-Fi isn't the end-all, be-all of in-home "triple-play" connections (for voice, video and data). There's going to be 45 million connections from video service providers by 2011 using technology like Multimedia over Coax (MoCA) (Verizon's choice), Home Phone Networking Alliance (HPNA 3.0) (AT&T's choice), and HomePlug AV. So much for your cable-less future.

Wi-Fi may not be as popular as you'd think for future consumer electronics devices. In-Stat says that digital rights management (DRM), lack of consumer understanding of networking, and competition from future Wireless USB might mean CE products — especially digital camcorders and DVRs — skip Wi-Fi altogether. Then again, "even single-digit attach rates can translate into millions of Wi-Fi shipments," says analyst Gemma Tedesco. Think happy thoughts about the game consoles, Microsoft Zune, and a mythical Wi-Fi equipped iPod of the future...

October 23, 2006

Gizmodo reports that Apple has submitted a patent application on how future iPods will use wireless to make online purchases of electronic media. Shades of Microsoft Zune? Or just a plan to combat the new music player directly? (This despite the fact that Zune's built-in Wi-Fi will be limited to file-sharing between devices at this point — no direct Internet purchases from the handheld).

Want to get online just about anywhere, but your cheap company won't pony up for the iPass account you so covet? Well, buy your own. All it takes now is buying a Lenovo ThinkPad or 3000 family laptop computer. The two companies have a new deal for Lenovo's "prosumer" and SMB customers.

Broadcom today announced a new set of "ultra-low" power Wi-Fi chips. The BCM4326 supports 802.11b/g; the BCM4328 is a/b/g. They measure a minuscule 50x50 mm. The chips have new algorithms that let them live in better harmony with Bluetooth on the same device (they call it InConcert), which is good, as they're made to be combined with Broadcom's own Bluetooth, VoIP, multimedia or other radio-related processors. There's even some of Broadcom's MIMO/Intensi-Fi tech in there, though these chips don't support Draft-N. The chips are sampling now.

October 17, 2006

SMC Networks is the latest company (joining D-Link, Linksys, Netgear, Buffalo, Belkin, TRENDnet, ASUS and ZyXEL) to offer products supporting Draft-N, the not-quite-fully-backed 802.11n specification (all the products are based on the 1.0 draft). The company promises backward compatibility with 11b/g — which hasn't been a given for all competing products — plus high speeds (300 Mbps). The lineup includes an ADSL2+ Modem Router (model SMC7904WBRA-N), a CardBus card and a desktop PCI adapter. Prices weren't announced. SMC expects them to ship this quarter.

SpectraGuard Sentry, the wireless intrusion protection system (IPS) from AirTight Networks, is now for sale online for small and medium businesses. The company says it can be configured in 15 minutes though a Web-based interface to provide alerts via e-mail and otherwise to indicate trespassers on the network. Pricing starts at $495 to protect just two access points, plus $500 for an upgrade, with extra charges for telephone support packages.

Spectec is going to offer the first microSD card with Wi-Fi. MicroSDs are ultra-small flash memory cards measuring 15 x 11 x 1 mm. Spectec's card will support 802.11b/g. Various phones from Nokia, LG and Motorola support the cards.

5G Wireless is selling a new self-enclosed antenna mini-base station, the G-ForceT 850 b/g PicoCell, for extending a network both indoors and outdoors in hard-to-reach spots. It doesn't require direct line of sight.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG) has a new Qualification Program for member companies. Supposedly, they can now better ensure interoperability, while at the same time making the certification process more consistent and automatic for members. The SIG sends 90 products through the program every month, and claims this will shorten the amount of time companies have to invest in products to get them to pass. Details on the program are online.

A new company has joined both the Wi-Fi Alliance and the WiMax Forum this week. Mocana of San Francisco describes itself as a "provider of complete open standards-based security solutions," with customers like Dell, Cisco, Symbol and Nortel. The company's Device Security Framework bundles everything from embedded RADIUS and 802.1X authentication to IPSec and SSL for servers and clients.

October 13, 2006

Trapeze Networks says its new SmartMobile architecture is the first to offer "intelligent switching, combining centralized and distributed forwarding for optimized traffic flow." In other words, if something should be done at the AP, it is; if it should be done at the controller, it is; if some kind of traffic should shunt to a different part of the network (like voice to an IP-PBX), it is. According to Dan Simone, VP and CTO at Trapeze, "Rather than say how the network works and force it, we say the needs of applications will change, the needs of environments will change, and SmartMobile will adapt." This new architecture is also Trapeze's first time trying its hand at mesh for some outdoor deployments -- and it's also ready to support 802.11n. The price is the same as previous Trapeze product, and should be available this month.

October 12, 2006

The latest Draft-N products were announced today by ZyXEL. To be called MIMO-N, the products will include a router (model NBG-415N, $160), CardBus adapter for notebooks (NWD-170N, $100), and PCI Card for desktops (NWD-370N, $120), all using XSpan chips from Atheros which ZyXEL says provide throughput of 300 Megabits per second (Mbps). The big difference from the competition is the ability to remove antennas from the equipment so you can upgrade performance the old fashioned way. The router supports Windows Connect Now and ships with Network Magic software; both help with setup. Ubicom's StreamEngine is built in for better Quality of Service on video and voice, especially for upstream bandwidth usage. Look for them to go on sale by the end of October. (ZyXEL says it may go for an ASUS-like return guarantee for upgrades to final 11n, but hasn't decided yet.)

Slim Devices is teaming with Ruckus Wireless. The two say that by coupling the Ruckus MediaFlex wireless hardware with the Wi-Fi equipped Squeezebox media player, they can deliver to users "for the first time, high-quality, stutter-free music playback throughout their home over standard Wi-Fi." They say to just plug the MediaFlex into a gateway or broadband modem, hook the Squeezebox up in another room -- and without configuration, the owner will have streaming digital audio. The MediaFlex will ship with a Squeezebox player for $359.

Linksys has launched a lot of routers since 1999. The first wireless unit, the BEFW11S4, launched in 2000. Since then, they've put out 18 wireless routers (not sure if that counts multiple versions of the honored and hackable WRT54G) and today the company says it has now shipped 25 million wireless routers in total. They started selling 100,000 of them a month and now ship 1 million a month. They claim to be responsible for one of every two routers out there. The company admits wireless networks at home still aren't that easy to set up, so they've launched a Learning Center section of their Web site to help out their 25 million customers, as well as those in the future.

FON has officially launched its first wireless router (previously, the service relied on flashing third party routers like those from Linksys). The new La Fonera is a tiny unit less than an inch think that goes for only $5 if you agree to share your wireless access with paying customers. Each has two SSIDs -- one public and open, the other private and secured with WPA. You and your fellow "Foneros" get access for free on any FON router. The company hasn't had much traction in the United States, but wants to change that and will host some events in New York and San Francisco this month where it will give away the La Fonera routers to anyone promising to share the bandwidth.

October 11, 2006

A new tool for criminal hackers, or a useful utility for small businesses looking for holes in their wireless networks? Perhaps new Wicrawl is both. Midnight Research Labs is behind the new, open source "access point auditor" that passively detects APs, even those not broadcasting SSIDs. It works with multiple Wi-Fi cards, and has a plug-in architecture, so it's open to adding abilities like encryption cracking. The software is currently in alpha testing.

Credant Technologies of Dallas still wants to protect enterprises from their users' PDAs and smartphones (both with and without Wi-Fi). Version 5.2 of their centralized management platform, Mobile Guardian, will now integrate with Cisco Network Admission Control (NAC) with a Windows Posture Plug-in. The software on client systems will sync with Microsoft Exchange servers over the air, blocking those without the Guardian software -- and it has proximity-based access to things like a Bluetooth headset without having to constantly re-authenticate.

Yankee Group says that wireless broadband equipment makers had better start supporting 4.9 GHz — the frequency reserved by the FCC in the U.S. for use by first responders — if they want to be at all competitive. 2.4 GHz, the unlicensed spectrum used by Wi-Fi, is too crowded and "cannot successfully guarantee the high level of service reliability or mobility required for mission-critical public safety applications," according to a statement by the research firm. 4.9 GHz has less interference, more security (since not everyone can use it), and using it means sharing the licenses with like-minded agencies, so there could be better communication.

October 5, 2006

JiWire's Hotspot Helper utility is now in general availability for all comers. And Google is now recommending it as a security VPN tool for its Mountain View, California users. Google is calling it a "reliable third party VPN solution." Hotspot Helper is free to use for up to 30 minutes a day. For unlimited use, it costs $25 a year.

While a lot of metro-scale mesh networks are turning to companies like Ruckus and PEPLink to get equipment that customers can put in their premises to extend coverage, MetroFi has gone somewhere else: the Cantenna. Not the kind you make with Pringles cans and foil (though that might work too). Instead, the provider of Wi-Fi in cities like Cupertino, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, California is saying the high-gain, directional Cantenna Wi-Fi Booster antenna from Wireless Garden is MetroFi's recommended product for customers with a weak signal. The Cantenna is only $50.

Apparently, using Wi-Fi is a sign of impatience. eBay Express did a study to find the "most impatient cities" in America (Austin, Texas was #1), which it found by counting the number of convenience-oriented services like quick copy shops and in-and-out gyms. The number of Wi-Fi hotspots in a city was a factor.

In-Stat says that, despite better security standards, the use of security on WLANs in businesses is still woefully low. However, that could change over the next few years as security needs for portable devices and for protecting network assets become more prevalent. 460 million new client devices with Wi-Fi -- PCs, handsets and more -- will be in businesses between now and 2010, making up almost 95% of all client devices.

silex technology america says its SX-600 is the "industry's most secure" Ethernet-to-wireless adapter (it plugs into the Ethernet port of any device to get it on the WLAN, without any drivers needed). That's because they built in support for WPA2 with AES, the highest Wi-Fi encryption going, and then added 802.1X authentication with various Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) types: TLS, TTLS, LEAP, PEAP and FAST. Plus, it has its own password protection and access control lists to make sure only the right people use the peripheral in question. It can all be configured on a Windows computer. It'll start selling sometime this quarter for $285 MSRP, in both plastic and metal casings.

Students can act now and buy the Wi-Fire high-gain Wi-Fi adapter for cheap. Well, cheaper. The $109 card with directional antenna combo that mounts atop your laptop screen is now $89 from hField, but only to students of higher education. Wi-Fire reportedly delivers a range of 1,000 feet on 802.11b/g networks.

Taiwan's Accton Technology says it has a design ready for OEM/ODMs to build a Wi-Fi phone for Skype. The VM1185T design is certified by Skype's call center.

Wistron NeWeb has a new dual-mode GSM/Wi-Fi phone called the GW1. It works with HelloSoft's SIP-based VoIP technology when connected to an 802.11 network. It also plays MP3 files, shows pictures and handles instant messages on a two-inch color LCD. Talk time is five hours on GSM, four hours on a WLAN.

Laptops too expensive for your operation? Wyse Technology has a new family of wireless thin client systems ready, the V-Class. All they need is a power source. They operate with Microsoft Terminal Services, Citrix Presentation Server, VMware VDI and Wyse Device Manager running OSes like Windows CE, XP embedded, and of course, Linux. For the Wi-Fi connection, they support 802.1X authentication with WPA2 encryption (or back down to WEP encryption as needed).

October 3, 2006

ASUSTeK Computer is the latest to join the Draft-N product bandwagon. Using Broadcom's Intensi-Fi chips, the company is launching a router (model WL-500W) and adapter (WL-100W) under the brand name of Super Speed N (no pricing was announced). They promise transfer speeds of 100Mbps or higher. Here's the real corker: ASUS will "guarantee future 802.11n compatibility and give users peace of mind when purchasing draft-N solutions" if purchased before Dec. 31, 2006. The upgrade program will start when 802.11n is ratified (likely in 2008) and doing so will not start the warranty over. They'll provide firmware upgrades online, and if it's not that easy, they'll swap hardware with you, paying only for the shipping of the return unit.

It isn't UMA, but it might do the job until then: D-Link says its new V-CLICK phone will support GSM (slide in the SIM card of your carrier of choice) and Wi-Fi. Click a button and the phone will turn the Wi-Fi connection on or off, which can be used to access an Internet phone service, probably of the SIP variety. It has Opera Mobile as a browser for Web surfing on the two-inch color screen. The phone will cost $600, though, so it's intended for businesses. Look for it in early 2007.

Microsoft's soon-to-debut Zune media player has Wi-Fi, as everyone knows. But yesterday, engadget.com revealed that having Wi-Fi and making it useful are two concepts Microsoft hasn't quite got right in this iPod competitor. Specifically, the Wi-Fi connection in the first version can only be used for ad-hoc connections between Zune units, to share songs and albums for three days or three listens, whichever comes first — after that, the shared song is deleted.  It will also share image files. Zune will not download songs from the Zune online store; it won't connect to the Internet at all; and the real kick in the pants: you can't even use the Wi-Fi to sync your music with the files on your PC. You have to use the USB cable. It could all change shortly after launch, but for now, Zune's wireless seems to be pretty... wired.  

iSkoot has introduced a new 100Kb Java-based software client for phones that will work with its own network server to let dual-mode phones (supporting GSM/CDMA and Wi-Fi) connect to commercial VoIP service. That includes GoogleTalk, AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Microsoft Messenger and, of course, Skype. The VoIP connection can be made over the Wi-Fi or the CDMA network, even over 3G networks.

The ZigBee Alliance has enhanced the remote wireless control tech once again, which should be publicly available in early 2007. OEMs can now put individual devices (for ZigBee, that could be things like thermostats, light switches, garage door openers, etc.) into a group or multiple groups so that one push of a button turns them on or off. Commands to devices can be targeted by type, to put items to sleep or bring them awake, for example. Devices can also be configured over the air, making it easier to add new devices as needed. Tendril says it will release its new Tendril Access, an access point for 802.15.4/ZigBee sensor and control networks, which serves as a gateway between wireless and wired networks. It works with Tendril's modular system, or can stand alone with other ZigBee nets.

Carriers that want to provide fixed/mobile convergence (F/MC) can now look at Cisco Systems. The company just finished testing Kineto Wireless' Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) Network Controller (IP-UNC) with Cisco's Mobile Services Security Gateway (SeGW) for both the 7301 and the 7600 series platforms. UMA is now a 3GPP global standard for mobile/Wi-Fi convergence. Both Kineto and Cisco sponsor the new UMAToday.com information site about UMA services.

Investment in wireless LANs is the number two priority for small to medium sized businesses in North America, especially for businesses with over 100 employees, according to a survey from the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). Number one priority is laptop upgrades. New phone systems is third, but jumps to number two with smaller offices (less than 100 people).

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