WiMax player buys into Wi-Fi, spurns mesh

WiMax vendor Airspan plans to pull WiMax and Wi-Fi together, by buying Radionet of Finland for $1.9 million. The company has also branded mesh hotzones an expensive delusion, and delivered a scheme to avoid the early security troubles of Wi-Fi.

"What we've recognised over the last year or so, is that the integration of Wi-Fi and WiMax is even more interesting than Wi-Fi or WiMax on its own," said Paul Senior, vice president of marketing at Airspan. "We've been searching for the right acquisition."

As a start-up, Airspan will also benefit from the fact that Radionet is very well established in providing metropolitan coverage, with its own sales force and several successful installations. These include the Redkite network in London, which provides wireless leased lines from £395 per month, and Zonet, a hotzone the size of New York City (800 square km) that serves 60,000 people, set up in the Mäntsälä region of Finland by the local power utility.

So far, Radionet has been describing itself as "WiMax ready", using its own technology in the 2.4GHz spectrum for backhaul in its hotzones. "It's a point to point solution that allows us to build 80 Mbit/s links, based on tweaked 802.11," said Senior. While WiMax is going to be the long term strategy, this is "something we didn't have in our portfolio," he said.

Radionet and Airspan both agree that Wi-Fi with WiMax backhaul is the way to go for hotzones, and Senior pours scorn on the idea of mesh, currently basking in the reflected glory of Cisco's entry into the market.

"Mesh is OK for best efforts Internet browsing," said Senior, "but when you bounce through multiple hops, you get variable jitter and delay, which makes services like voice over Wi-Fi very problematic, and things like Internet gaming almost impossible." Mesh provider BelAir might disagree with that contention, having launched a QoS enabled mesh product this week.

WiMax stations for backhaul will generally be cheaper than mesh points, said Senior, because they can be simpler, and because a standard will allow competition: "A WiMax/Wi-Fi node will cost one quarter the price of a Wi-Fi mesh node," he said. "You don't have to put any router technology in the node." The two products aren't necessarily comparable, but he said Airspan's integrated node costs $700, and Cisco's mesh points have launched at $4000.

Although Airspan already has a Wi-Fi / WiMax product, Radionet's technology will add in seamless roaming between the stations, he promised. The company has also got solutions for putting Wi-Fi on trains, in factories and down mines.

Airspan also claims to be the first to launch a device certification service, specified in the WiMax standard. To avoid the security problems which Wi-Fi struggled with in its early days, the WiMax Forum specified that WiMax hardware should have X.509 digital certificates embedded in it, that are provided and verified by a third party.

"We are the first people in the world to deliver 802.16 standard WiMax certification," said Senior. "We are using Verisign for our certification services. WiMax is going to be robust and secure out of the box. We are not going to repeat the fiascos of Wi-Fi.

This story, "WiMax player buys into Wi-Fi, spurns mesh" was originally published by Techworld.com.


Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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