By Eric Griffith
October 3, 2005
Strix Systems of Calabasas, Calif., is one of the many companies making a name for itself in wireless mesh infrastructure equipment. It’s a market that In-Stat says is going from $33.5 million last year to $974.3 million by 2009. In fact, the research firm calls it a “potentially disruptive technology” — they mean that in a good way. But can it get there using Wi-Fi alone? Maybe not. This is probably why Strix is already making noise about its future support for the high-speed, long-distance connections that will come with 802.16, also known as WiMax.
“The [WiMax] fixed wireless tradition is point-to-point or point-to-multipoint towers with base stations supporting hundreds, if not thousands of CPE [customer premises equipment] devices. Then you have nomadic or mobile users that have an amazing number of devices with Wi-Fi… hook up via laptop while downtown, solving the CPE problem,” says Cyrus Irani, vice president of advanced development and strategy at Strix, describing how the company sees the market. “With mesh, you serve both mobile and fixed [users].”
Irani says Strix’s multi-radio Access/One products provide WiMax-like service today, but the company is committed to ringing out every drop of performance it can for customers. Thus, when interoperable WiMax chips are available, he says the tech will be made ready on modules for the Strix hardware. Attach an appropriate antenna, and you go from 802.11a for backhaul to 802.16-2004, and later the mobile version, 802.16e. The latter will support users on the go, even in vehicles, like today’s cellular phone connections.
“Everyone else will require a new product,” says Irani of his mesh competition trying to go to 802.16.
Irani says this gives the option of deploying in licensed or unlicensed spectrum. “If they can get spectrum from a holder… it can be a data overlay for cellular, which is great for carriers,” he says.
“Our customers want mesh pico-cells,” he says. “They want to start a deployment and scale up to higher densities or more capacity. Capex [capital expenditures] and Opex [operating expenses] are important. We need to be able to deal on a pico-level with density, topography, and locality.”
With many months to a year before the company will ship WiMax modules, he would not comment on pricing. In fact, he admits that customers are not beating down the door at Strix demanding imminent WiMax support.
He compares it to the hype of late from vendors supporting 4.9GHz equipment. That spectrum is reserved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by first responders to emergencies.
“What’s so hard about that [4.9]?,” Irani asks. “If you do it properly, you can do it right away.” Strix, however, isn’t jumping on 4.9 yet either, because there aren’t a lot of devices out there requiring it yet. “It’s a check box item,” he says. “We’ll be releasing 4.9 eventually, just because everyone else has.”
Other companies that have announced 4.9GHz support in mesh products include Firetide, which just last week said it has new products specific to the frequency. Motorola’s MeshNetworks division announced 4.9 support last year.
Likewise, Strix is not the first mesh player to announce eventual support for WiMax. Last month, SkyPilot Networks said it would make its mesh protocol ready to run on top of WiMax chips from Fujitsu.
Strix recently stole some of the spotlight away from vendor Tropos Networks when it was partnered with NeoReach to provide equipment to unwire Tempe, Arizona. NeoReach CEO Bruce Sanguinetti has expressed admiration for the Strix products and says the companies have a tight relationship, so it’s likely the company will supply equipment for the latest NeoReach customer (pending approval)— the city of Sacramento, Calif., the state capitol.
Strix started out with indoor equipment before catching up with the likes of Tropos and BelAir Networks with outdoor equipment. Irani says that while corporate building deployments continue for Strix, they are not the company’s target market. Their enterprise focus is on hospitality, large campuses, and the transportation industry — in other words, the metro-scale type of deployments everyone is clamoring to get.
• Firetide Upgrades Include 4.9GHz
• Alvarion, DirecTV Unplug WiMax Rumors
• NYC GUARD Project Boosts Pre-WiMax Promoters