Fall Wi-Fi Planet 2004's Best of Show

With no lack of eligible products, we still narrow down a list of the five best products and services in categories ranging from hotspots to infrastructure to security.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A gathering of Wi-Fi vendors always means a lot to take in, but only a handful of companies continue to truly innovate and bring something new to the table. That handful, narrowed down from an exhaustive list of potential winners, is what makes up the best on the show floor at this week's Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo.

To be eligible for the awards, the contending products and services had to be on display in the show's exhibit hall this week, and the company had to nominate itself to get our attention. The editors of Wi-Fi Planet narrowed the list to those we thought had brought the most innovation and usefulness to their category, and then we set our judges upon the vendors to get the full scoop. After deliberation, we narrowed our primary candidates to a single product in five categories—the Best of Show.

Hotspots
ICOA/AuthDirect's Tollbooth 3.0
was acquired by hotspot provider ICOA in September, and for good reason: it runs the back-end of the company's various public Wi-Fi locations, from airports to marinas to the entire Panera Bread chain. The Tollbooth managed service has a complicated but clear interface, and incredible flexibility in allowing a customer to brand and bill in a variety of ways at separate venues.

Mesh Infrastructure
BelAir Networks' BelAir100
is the long-awaited followup to BelAir's 200 outdoor unit. The 100, as the name suggests, is smaller than the 200—it has just one or two radios in it. It's what the company calls an "edge mesh node," with a single backhaul link to the main wireless mesh, allowing the extension of the network without the full expense (40% less than the 200, they say, but the pricing and configurations the company offers seem endless). The 100 can handle client connections, or use two backhaul radios to set up point-to-point extensions from one BelAir mesh deployment to another. How you configure it is up to you.

Security and Management
Interlink Networks' LucidLink
is the first company to carry a Wi-Fi Planet Best of Show Award twice in a row. This software for setting up an almost instant RADIUS server to secure your small-to-medium business using 802.1X authentication has done nothing but improve by adding support for more users (up to 250), more operating systems (Windows 2000 in addition to XP), and adding pricing configurations (such as the $99 three-user home-office edition).

Network Design
Wireless Valley EnterprisePlanner
extends this longtime leader's wireless LAN planning software into more than just Wi-Fi. Now you can use the tool to plan the layout of in-building cellular, RFID, ZigBee and even long-range WiMax. Plus, the company has started to build in management functions and troubleshooting, making it worthwhile even for those who already have a WLAN in place.

WLAN Equipment
Colubris CN1250 Secure WLAN Gateway
takes full advantage of the recently incorporated Virtual AP (VAP), which delivers multiple services in an enterprise from one piece of hardware by making the network think there are as many as 16 service set identifiers (SSIDs) available. This unit goes the extra distance by including a VPN for remote access.






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