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Extricom’s 'Perfect' WLAN

Israeli startup Extricom Ltd. claims to have developed a “break-away” enterprise wireless LAN architecture that is unaffected by co-channel interference and will enable networks to operate at “full modem speed” and with “perfect coverage.”

The bold claims were made as the firm announced it has raised a further $5.6 million in second-round funding this week, led by Vertex Venture Capital. When completed, the $8 million round will bring total investment to $11 million (see Extricom Scores $5.6M).

Extricom’s system is designed around a centralized switch and thin access point architecture, similar to Aruba Wireless Networks, Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL), and others.

So far, so normal.

What makes the company different, says CEO Gideon Rottem, is that its access points can be deployed in dense configurations and deliver superior throughput per user, without the need for cell planning and RF management, and with zero handoff time between access points. “It’s an optimization of the 802.11 PHY.”

The key technology that makes this possible is a per-packet adaptive architecture that adapts to its RF environment for each packet sent across the wireless network. Also described as “specialized link-optimization algorithms,” this software enables frequency reuse of each 802.11 RF channel, multiplying the aggregate capacity by up to 60 times compared to regular 802.11 networks, says Rottem.

Extricom’s switch and access point products are based on commercial 802.11 RF silicon, ported to low-cost, small-footprint field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) in place of the memory and processors found in regular access points. The vendor claims this can reduce the bill-of-materials (BOM) by up to 30 percent versus devices built around rival products.

Recognizing the enterprise wireless LAN market is crowded by large incumbents like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), as well as startups such as Airespace Inc. and Trapeze Networks Inc., Rottem isn’t planning a full-frontal assault on the enterprise. Instead, Extricom is pitching itself as an OEM offering for vendors already in the market and looking to make superior RF performance a core feature of their next-generation products.

Already there are plenty of signs that the industry is moving in the direction of denser and more robust deployment models for heavy-use enterprise customers (see WLAN Gets Dense , Airespace Finds MIMO, and Aruba Grids Up). There is also another stealthy Israeli startup, Stellaris Networks, touting technology that sounds similar to Extricom’s.

And there are examples of equipment vendors, such as Chantry Networks Inc. and Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR), adopting software that automates many aspects of RF management, and which may ultimately be embedded in 802.11 chipsets (see Propagate Looks to Clear the Air).

At this stage, however, most enterprise 802.11 equipment vendors seem more focused on developing application-layer partnerships and sales channels, than on deep re-engineering projects. It is unclear how much appetite exists for a full-scale swap out of the radio-layer, at least in the short term.

“There is some pain,” agrees Rottem. “And that’s why this is an 18-month process.”

— Gabriel Brown, Chief Analyst, Unstrung Insider

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