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« Vivato Broadcasts Its Plan | Main | Proxim Connects the Dots »

February 17, 2003

Vivato Unleashed

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Vivato's Coming Out Party: Yesterday at Demo, Vivato announced the details of their first Wi-Fi phased-array antenna/switch, an indoor office system that can serve up to 150 users at 11 Mbps at distances up to 300 meters for about $9,000.

Some of the early comments have wondered about this pricing model: how many access points at even enterprise pricing of $500 can you put in place instead of a single Vivato switch? They're missing the key point that explains Vivato's disruptive potential: the Vivato unit is a switch not an access point.

Let that sink in, and you'll realize what it means: each user has the potential through steered and focused beams to receive a full Wi-Fi speed connection without interfering with other users. The Vivato switch has two gigabit Ethernet ports and two 10/100 Mbps Ethernet ports. 150 by 11 Mbps minus overhead at full utilization could saturate a gigabit port.

In practical usage, it's likely that not every user within range would certainly receive full exclusive 11 Mbps Wi-Fi usage. The laws of physics coupled with physical reality don't allow that. But to provide equal coverage with access points, you would need at least several dozen, densely placed, with as many nonoverlapping channels as possible, and a robust Ethernet infrastructure underneath it for backhaul.

I interviewed Phil Belanger of Vivato last week; Belanger was formerly VP of marketing and other titles at Wayport, and his move to Vivato is one of the reasons that I gave the company such credibility in the early days. He and others at the company are veterans of the industry.

Belanger said that until the day the FCC gave approval for Vivato to treat each of its steered beams of service as individual point-to-point connections governed by the power rules for those connections, they weren't sure the FCC would actually agree with their interpretation of the law. Fortunately, Powell's staff seems to encourage this kind of envelope stretching that's backed by testing. Belanger said that the FCC likes the Vivato model in that it encourages an "efficient use of the unlicensed spectrum."

The Vivato switch doesn't broadcast, but scans over a 100-degree field of view, but when it connects with a client Wi-Fi adapter, it focuses service directly onto that device. The switch is still limited by weak transmit signal on Wi-Fi cards, but Vivato's approach does extend range as well as allow transparency through interior partitions, solid or cubicle style.

Among several advantages Belanger cites for the switch is that even with all other costs being equal, there's a reduced price for wire deployment, which anyone who has contracted for Ethernet and electrical wiring for an office knows can run hundreds of dollars a drop. Even prewired offices may need renovation as additional devices are added. The Vivato switch just needs an optimal placement in a corner to have that 100-degree view.

The product itself is pretty minimalist: a textile covering (which can be provided in different colors to match office decor) covers the antenna, which has all of its administrative innards hidden as well. The first version of the switch is meant for interiors, and will ship in May. An outdoor version in an environmental, ruggedized enclosure will come next.

Belanger pointed out that the indoor model is limited practically to a single floor of a building, more or less, but that an outdoor version mounted to point at a building could cover most or all of the facility. This lends itself to airport, shopping malls, big retail warehouses, and conference venues, he said.

Up to four switches can be aggregated together to take advantage of the substantial LAN and WLAN management tools and support built in. You have to read the spec sheet for all of it, but it supports 802.1x/EAP, AES (when available as part of 802.11i), TKIP (as part of Wi-Fi Protected Access and 802.11i), 802.1q (VLAN), and on and on.

The switch offers rogue access point detection, because it's constantly scanning and has a signature library of what new access points look like.

Belanger said they would be running a switch at the CTIA conference -- it won't be the show's official network, but Belanger said they should be offering as much of a coverage area.

Vivato will be selling its products through value-added resellers, including TerraWave, announced today. They have 30 VARs signed up already, and the VARs will handle configuration and installation.

My take: Although Vivato is running a couple months behind their original schedule, my analysis continues to be that for many kinds of installations, primarily large venue hot spot and enterprise-scale campus or building projects, Vivato radically changes the deployment and maintenance costs and complexity, while so dramatically increasing network throughput on a per-client basis that it practically cannot be compared to any other product currently on the market.

The closest competitor rely on massive deployment of inexpensive access points, but still cannot achieve the coverage range, simplicity, or throughput of a single Vivato switch no matter how massively they were to build out.

The next three months will be crucial as Vivato tests its devices extensively in the real field, and reports come in. If Vivato can achieve its relatively modest goals given its equipment's potential, Cisco, Proxim, and many other vendors will have to rapidly rethink their model -- and raise cash for an acquisition.

Other News

A more technical Boeing Connexion flight story: EE Times offers a more technical look at the Boeing Connexion in-flight wired/Wi-Fi service story high above Lake Tahoe. Interestingly, Boeing is predicting 20 to 30 percent of a given trans-ocean flight's passengers would opt for service. On a recent flight that was 100 users -- at $35 a pop. This is a significant revenue improvement, obviously, even with the costs of operating the network, like performing a compression routine to put 2 to 10 more passengers on the plane.