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802.11 Startup Targets Testing

Wireless LAN startup Azimuth Systems Inc. is today slipping out of stealth mode with 802.11 test products that are intended to provide consistent, repeatable results on hardware performance tests -- by completely removing the radio signal from the equation.

That may sound weird, but it turns out there are some good reasons for taking the radioless approach to wireless testing.

The Acton, Mass.-based startup, which was founded in 2002, is funded to the tune of $12.9 million by Kodiak Venture Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners. The management team includes escapees from Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A), Avaya Inc. (NYSE: AV), and 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS).

Graham Celine, VP of marketing for the firm, says that Azimuth has so far shipped three of its W-Series systems, with another ready to go soon. Wireless LAN enterprise equipment maker Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL) has signed on as the firm's first named customer.

"With these systems, we've tied up something like 94 percent of the market share in the enterprise [testing market]," Celine claims.

Azimuth claims that its system is the first product to allow reliable WLAN performance testing in a manageable system. Previously, Celine says, companies had to build costly isolation chambers to ensure that the radio environment was always the same when they tested kit: Testing in an unshielded environment introduces too many variables -- such as radio frequency interference and loading -- to accurately gauge hardware performance characteristics like packet forwarding speed.

So, in order to remove the radio element, Azimuth has developed a system that can connect to access points and PC cards and other devices sitting inside its unit via RF cable (like a more sophisticated version of the wire used for TV connections).

The firm has an eight-port chassis called the 800W, which it says can support up to 16 access points, and a smaller three-port product, the 300W, which Celine says is aimed at vendors that want to test small numbers of APs. The boxes support all three current 802.11 wireless LAN standards: 802.11b (11 Mbit/s over 2.4GHz), a (54 Mbit/s over 5GHz), and g (54 Mbit/s over 2.4Ghz)

On top of that, the firm's TestMAC emulation software module can give an idea of how access points will perform as part of a network that actually has users on it. The TestMAC app can simulate up to 128 "virtual" clients on a network. Communication Machinery Corp. (CMC) has a similar emulator that can simulate up to 64 clients on a network. The firm also has other modules, such as the Station Test Module (STM), which enables testing of Windows clients for interoperability and performance, as well as a number of pre-programmed test scripts and schemes.

All of this connects to the Test Director software that controls the system. This application also allows users to simulate WLAN range tests by "virtually positioning" clients and access points so that users can test the rate and range of products close-in and at the limit of 802.11's normal range capabilities (around 100 meters for 802.11b).

List pricing for the Azimuth kit can run from $44,200 for a small system, up to $164,400 for the larger chassis fully loaded with multiple modules.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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