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WLAN start-up promises four mile wireless range

Wireless network specialist Vivato has introduced a new wireless LAN switch coupled with a planar phased-array antenna that it claims significantly boosts WLAN range to just over four miles.

Standard WLAN's have a maximum range of several hundred feet.

Phil Belanger, vice-president of marketing at Vivato (formerly Mabuhay Networks), said the company has targeted its new product at organisations that want to serve a large building or a campus environment. Other markets targeted by Vivato, which is based in San Francisco, include the public access WLAN market and wireless Internet service providers.

Besides a dramatic increase in range, Belanger said Vivato's new technology also promises an equally impressive jump in throughput compared with standard WLAN access points, delivering up to 800Mbps compared with 11Mbps for existing 802.11b Wi-Fi WLAN products from companies such as Cisco Systems. In addition to 802.11b, Belanger said the new Vivato switch and antenna will support the 802.11a standard, which operates in the 5GHz frequency band, and the 802.11g standard, which operates in the 2.4GHz frequency band with 802.11b.

Vivato derives its range and throughput from the patented phased-array antenna similar to that used on Navy Aegis cruisers to track and identify aircraft and which relies on electronic-beam-forming to send a narrow pulse of high-speed data to a particular WLAN client, Belanger said. The picture-frame-shaped phased-array antenna can simultaneously handle transmission to and from multiple WLAN clients, Belanger said.

Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group, said: "I'm a big believer in antenna arrays and I believe they will see significant deployments in WLAN applications. The technical and marketing advantage that Vivato may have is yet to be proven."

Vivato isn't the only company working with phased arrays, Mathias said. "The technology is well-known and has been applied in large [cellular and military] installations for some time."

Vivato has also built what Belanger called "big ear" technology into the antenna, allowing it to detect clients transmitting at just milliwatts of power at long ranges. He said Vivato achieves its four-mile range in outdoor use, with the range of an indoor system dropping to about a mile. Vivato envisions enterprises setting up just one outdoor antenna to provide service to an entire office building, replacing multiple indoor access points.

The rack-mounted wireless switch, Belanger said, can easily be configured to support multiple security protocols, including the Advanced Encryption Standard, which is at the core of the 802.11i security standard that the wireless LAN industry is expected to adopt in 2004.

Belanger declined to provide pricing for Vivato's wireless switches, which are expected to go on sale in the first quarter of 2003. Howver he said Vivato should make economic sense for any enterprise that plans to install as few as six standard WLAN access points to serve an office or campus environment. Prices for Cisco Aironet enterprise grade access points run from slightly more than $500 (£320) to just below $900 (£575) on Web specials offered by Cisco resellers.

Vivato marks the second radical change in WLAN design during the past three months. In September, Symbol Technologies introduced its Mobius WLAN architecture, which uses a central switch to manage access ports that consist only of radios and antennas, with all intelligence hosted on the switch.

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