Loea Corp. introduces gigabit wireless technology

Loea Corp. has developed a wireless communications technology operating in a high-frequency spectrum that delivers the gigabit throughput of fiber-optic networks without the cost and expense of stringing cable.

Lou Slaughter, CEO of Lihue, Hawaii-based Loea, has trademarked this technology as Virtual Fiber and believes it can serve as a low-cost alternative to the "first mile" from an enterprise to a network, as backup to wired networks for disaster recovery and as an efficient and cost-effective way to deliver wideband communications to geographically isolated areas.

Loea, a subsidiary of Trex Enterprises Corp. in San Diego, has designed its radios to operate in 5 GHz of spectrum located within the 70-to-76-GHz band, Slaughter said. The wide bandwidth allows Loea to achieve gigabit throughput, he said, while the high frequencies help avoid congestion found in lower bands.

Loea gear currently operates under an experimental license. But the Federal Communications Commission has a rule pending that would open the 70-to-76-GHz band to licensed, commercial use, Slaughter said. No decision on that issue is expected until next year, according to the FCC, which won't close its comment period on the proposal until the end of this month.

Once the band is approved for use, Slaughter said, Loea expects to sell its Virtual Fiber system -- consisting of two 2-ft. dishes and associated electronics needed for a point-to-point link -- for less than $20,000.

Mark Mohlman, IT director at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island in Kane'ohe Bay, has been using a Loea link in beta mode to support researchers since August, and he has no intention of giving it up.

The institute, part of the University of Hawaii, runs a 100M bit/sec. LAN on Coconut Island (which is located off the east coast of the island of Oahu and which served as the setting for Gilligan's Island on television in the 1960s). It also supports between 50 and 60 users at a time running data-intensive applications.

Until the Loea link was installed, Mohlman said, data traffic between the island and the main University of Hawaii campus or the Internet was bottlenecked by a point-to-point 802.11 wireless connection operating in the unlicensed 2.4-GHz band that had a throughput of only 2M bit/sec.

The 1.25G bit/sec. speed provided by the Loea connection -- which extends 2 miles from the island to a state-owned network at Windward Community College, located in the hills above Kane'ohe Bay -- is faster than the state network, which operates at 155.5M bit/sec., Mohlman said.

The high-speed circuit will allow researchers on the island to perform tasks they could have never done with the slower 802.11 circuit, including tapping into the Maui Supercomputer Center to run complex applications.

The Loea equipment tends to fade out in periods of rain, Mohlman noted. When that happens, the network automatically falls back to the 802.11 connections. Mohlman said he expects the rain interference to be mitigated when Loea replaces the single 2-mile-plus link with a two-hop connection.

Will Strauss, an analyst at Forward Concepts in Tempe, Ariz., agreed that rain attenuation is a problem with any wireless system operating at such a high frequency. But, Strauss said, that is compensated for by the fact that the 70-to-76-GHz band is an almost unused and interference-free piece of spectrum.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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