Looking Beyond Wireless Connections

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CHICAGO -- Wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) attending WISPCON here Monday found vendors offering equipment that goes beyond straight connectivity.

Fixed wireless, the technology delivering Internet over the airwaves in the license-free Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spectrum -- primarily 900 MHz and 2.4 and 5.8 GHz -- has enjoyed widespread popularity the past few years as an alternative to "wired" high-speed Internet choices in digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable.

To date, the equipment powering fixed wireless and "hotspot" 802.11b has revolved primarily around getting more distance from equipment without violating Part-15 rules at the FCC, which limit the power of the signal so it doesn't interfere with licensed spectrum operators in the U.S.

Three companies -- Alvarion, MicroTik and KarlNet -- showcased equipment that improves on today's equipment and makes subscriber management easier.

Alvarion, a company that gained major clout in recent years after its creation through a merger between BreezeCOM and Floware, was showing off its new traffic manager Monday, which puts a cap on the amount of bandwidth an individual user can use at any given time and tally the extent of their use.

For WISPs, it brings a whole new level of management not normally used in the industry: finding out how much bandwidth subscribers are using and billing them appropriately. To date, most WISPs (and conventional ISPs, for that matter) use the multi-router traffic grapher (MRTG), a free application created by developer Tobi Oetiker.

Now, in addition to passively watching what users consume, WISPs can put a limit to how much bandwidth is used, raise or lower that amount, and keep track of that amount. It's similar to what many cable and DSL providers use today to "tier" its service at different speed levels (i.e., 1.5 Mbps, 768 Kbps)

Latvian-based MicroTik software designers released its first hardware product to WISPs Monday, after looking for a hardware product tailored to their software's needs, MicroTik v2.6.

The software -- which turns an ordinary home PC into a network router -- has many more features than a PC can provide. Enter MicroTik's Router Board 200, designed and manufactured in the European company's headquarters in Riga, Latvia.

The card, "basically an ATX (motherboard form factor) card cut in half," according to one of the company's officials, is a plug-in PCI card filled with ports and slots for a greater variety of network-based services. They include: intrusion detection, optional mini-UPS for power backup (15 minute battery life, enough time to send out an alert to the administrator), and Ethernet- and 802.11b-based slots.

The board supports most operating systems, including: Windows, Linux and BSD.

John Sully, MicroTik managing director, said the lack of a product suited to its software needs was the reason behind creating a hardware product.

"We're a software company, but the equipment out there that could use it wasn't there," he said. "We went out and ordered the design and had it manufactured in Latvia. The competition's similar product is much less powerful."

Officials are still working on a final price for the product, though Tully said the board will run between $150-$200 and be sold directly to customers for the time being. Depending on the success of the board, MicroTik will ramp up production and set up reseller distribution and original equipment manufacturing deals.

KarlNet was the third manufacturer with a product released today, an all-in-one piece of hardware that accommodates all types of wireless networking needs.

The KarlNet WISP Base is a 1U rack mount base station capable of operating up to five different radios and two 10/100-Ethernet interfaces, which can support up to 320 remote wireless stations. It can be used in either 2.4 GHz or 5.8 GHz radio systems.

Like Alvarion's traffic manager, the KarlNet product features a bandwidth and simple network management protocol (SNMP) control feature at the remote station, instead of at the network operations center (NOC). Tied to the network's remote authentication dial-in user service (RADIUS), it can be used to manage and bill individual users, as well as determine whether the user is actually a customer.

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