Carrier WiFi

Culver City Cuts Loose

Wireless mesh startup Firetide Inc. is pushing into the hot zone market with a new network in downtown Culver City, Calif. (see Culver City Gets Hotzone).

The city's redevelopment agency spent around $20,000 putting the network together to entice more "foot traffic" to the downtown area with free WiFi access.

Systems integrator Wireless Hotspot Inc. put together the one-mile-square network as a "proof-of-concept" for the city, using wireless mesh backhaul technology from Firetide to reduce the need for wired connections.

"They solve the backhaul equation," says Joseph Hsieh, president of Wireless Hotspot. "As you can imagine, in a city or a small municipality you don't want a lot of wired connections" for hotspots.

This is because mesh networks don't rely on a wired link to each radio box for connectivity. Instead, network data is routed back and forth between the mesh nodes. Such networks typically only have one or two wired connections at their termination points.

In fact, Hsieh says that the network is only using a 300-Mbit/s DSL line to connect back to the Internet at the moment. Although more wireless connections may be added later.

Hsieh says Wireless Hotspot has used three of Firetide's Hotpoint 1000R wireless mesh routers -- situated on a hotel and two city buildings in what will become a "cross pattern" to create the mesh.

"We're going to put in a fourth one very soon to give the packets more paths to choose from," says Hsieh.

Wireless Hotspot is using "long-range" 802.11 wireless access points as linked to the Firetide network as the public front-end to the network. "A couple per node," says Hsieh.

The last piece of the jigsaw is an appliance from Vernier Networks Inc., which is being used as a wireless gateway for user management and indentification.

All-in-all, a $20,000 rollout might seem like pretty small beans. But Wireless Hotspot, Firetide, and other mesh rivals like BelAir Networks and Tropos Networks are betting that the city hot zone concept will take off.

"We've bid on downtown Fullerton," says Hsieh, "and an RFP from the Los Angeles community redevelopment agency for one small part of the downtown area."

Firetide is, perhaps, thinking bigger than that. "I think at some point in time, we're going to see the graduation from hot zones to hot regions," says Barbara Cardillo, VP of marketing at Firetide.

The first real proof of concept for these larger networks will come when New York City settles on its wireless technology of choice for its public safety network, a contract some say could be worth up to $1 billion.

— Dan "Hot" Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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