Propagate's Embedded Software Calibrates WLANs
June 09, 2003
The Mass.-based startup's AutoCell product sits in firmware to automate the radio frequency environment of a wireless LAN to optimum use. Netgear and Atheros have already signed on to support it.
Propagate Networks of Acton, Mass., wants to "transform the behavior" of your wireless LAN. They intend to do it with AutoCell, an embedded control system that runs in the firmware for both infrastructure and client devices (even phones) on the Wi-Fi network.
The company's vice president of business development, Paul Callahan, says that with the small-footprint AutoCell software running in products on your WLAN, the network will enjoy what he calls "swarm logic -- you put a little intelligence in each and you get a higher order of behavior, like bees or ants. It's truly self organizing."
With AutoCell, the network will adjust channel selection and power output without user intervention.
Two big names are ready to support AutoCell: chipmaker Atheros and equipment maker Netgear. Atheros and Propagate have been working together to make sure the chips work with AutoCell, however it's still up to the individual product manufactures -- like Netgear --whether they embed the AutoCell functionality themselves.
Callahan says the inclusion of the firmware is not expensive. "Low cost rules this market," he says. "That's why .11 is even happening.... so this firmware is low cost to manufacturers. It runs on completely standard equipment, off the shelf."AutoCell will also do load-balancing for clients and failover lost signals when access points go down or lose power -- the others resize their signal radius to take up the slack, unknown to the user.
Callahan noted, also, that AutoCell does not address security in any way, only the RF domain. He says, "that's where self-organization needs to happen." (However, the company points out that despite having similar functions, such as failover, it's not a "mesh network.")
The self-organization is possible though use of a protocol called DRCP (Distributed Radio Control Protocol) which runs in the 802.11 data packet and is always measuring the RF environment. That environment is constantly changing as people or computers move around. Propagate thinks products need to adjust to those changes.
"If you were to just roll this out in access points," says Callahan, " it still self adjusts without the clients using AutoCell. It's designed for a completely mixed environment -- half with AutoCell, half without. Even if only 20% of the products have it, no problem."
The Propagate team also offers a real-time management application that runs on a client showing a representation of the radio signals on the WLAN, though its not necessary to monitor the automation, it will kick in on AutoCell equipment regardless of who's watching.
Propagate says its technology will definitely work with the new wave of WLAN switch products recently announced and they expect to be working with them as partners.