Startup pitches radio play but channel changing may cause problems

June 26, 2003

4 Min Read
Strix's Radio Trix

Startup Strix Systems Inc. wants to brighten your IT manager's day by replacing a lot of the tedious cabling work involved in implementing 802.11 networks, with simple radio links that can be ready in a flash (see Strix Totally Unwires LAN).

However a mean ol' analyst -- Chris Kozup of Meta Group Inc. -- questions the concept of running almost completely untethered wireless LAN networks, when the trend in the market is towards tighter integration between wired and wireless networks. Kozup [ed. note: wozup?] wonders if the radio cells the company is using to backhaul data to the LAN will really be scaleable and secure as networks get bigger.

Westlake Village, Calif.-based Strix is taking a different approach from most of the other startups in the enterprise WLAN market, which are trying to power and manage unruly 802.11 access points via Ethernet cables linked to a centralized switch.

Instead, Strix is offering corporations an almost entirely self-contained WLAN network with access points that wirelessly connect back to the company LAN over a dedicated 802.11a (54-Mbit/s) radio network linked to the LAN via just one or two Ethernet connections (for failover/redundancy capabilities), so that the only cable that would need to be connected to most of Strix's modular access points is a humble power cord.

The Strix system combines a few ideas that have been knocking around the WLANscape for a little while: using wireless to cut the costs of backhauling data; access points that can monitor their RF environment and thus change channels and radio intensity to avoid interference and signal overlaps; and mesh networking to enable wider coverage areas than the few hundred feet supported by the various 802.11 specifications (see Bandspeed's Six-Eyed Gypsy , Hotspots of the Future, Tropos Taps Intel and Propagate Looks to Clear the Air).

However, while most of these ideas have so far been largely focused on larger, public WLAN networks, Strix has taken these concepts and developed a modular access point system that it says will make wireless LAN networks simple and cheap -- without the need for extensive Ethernet cabling drops when installing a new network (although they will still have to run power to the boxes) -- and easy to add on new access points when the demand for more capacity arises.

The company, which has refugees from Ascend Networks, Efficient Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EFNT), and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) on its management team and $19 million in funding so far, has incorporated management and security software on a module that can be stacked up as part of one of the access points in a network (the modules look like oversized versions of kid's building blocks).

The company says that this lack of a need for additional cabling and hardware will make overall implementation of its system cheaper than rivals'. "We think we're sitting at about half the price of the switch vendors and 25 percent below Cisco," claims Bob Jordan, Strix's VP of marketing and a founder of the company. The company says that its access points, a.k.a. "network nodes," will range in price from $850 to $1,300 and will be available on July 21.

Strix's kit can support all the available 802.11 flavors (a/b/g) and is employing mesh networking to link all this kit and caboodle together.But Chris Kozup questions whether this approach will truly be scaleable if a corporation keeps expanding its WLAN ecosystem -- and how stable the network connections will be for end users if the access points keep automatically changing signal strength and channel hopping [ed. note: there's never anything good on] as the RF environment changes.

Kozup thinks that the trend in the industry is towards interdependent wired and wireless networks, not independent LAN and WLANs. "The goal in the enterprise is to converge networks," he notes.

Kozup also worries about the vulnerability of a standalone mesh networking system in a corporate environment. In a mixed setup, he notes a denial-of-service attack might only bring down one part of the network, but with a meshed system such an attack "has the potential to bring the whole network down."

However, he does see applications for the technology in situations where it is impractical to run cables to access points and use Power-over-Ethernet (POE) to keep access points juiced up – e.g., large, open spaces like factory floors and aircraft hangars.

"I could maybe see it for a conference center," he says.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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