Tropos Turns Up the Radios
The company, a leader in the municipal WiFi space, historically has offered only single-radio products -- choosing to use that radio to serve clients and teaming up with another hardware company for the backhaul. Officials have said from the get-go that a single radio keeps costs down for the customers, although most Tropos competitors use multiple radios in their routers. Now it seems that Tropos will offer that option, as well.
Sources close to Tropos have told Light Reading that, after seeing a two-radio router in the company's labs, they expect it to hit the market within months.
Tropos CEO Ron Sege sort of confirms the reports.
"As we start seeing more applications coming on line that start pushing expected revenue per user up -- location-based services and what have you -- you start seeing that maybe there is room to pay for more than one radio in a box," he says. "You can consider that we'll move in that direction."
But, he notes, it takes more than radios to make a mesh router attractive to a service provider. "Any announcements we make about our air interface plans will be accompanied by software models," Sege says. "We'll have an announcement [this] week along those lines -- being able to generate reports that tell an operator that for every subscriber attached to the network, what the health is of each laptop attached it, and telling the customers that they may not be well-positioned to the closest node. That's the lifeblood to the service provider."
Competitors have maintained that more radios are better, even if they increase operating costs per router. This is because they can cut down on the number of hops between nodes.
"Basically, cost effectiveness is very important, but the technology itself has to be part of the equation itself, especially when carriers start doing it," says Nan Chen, VP of marketing at Strix Systems Inc. , which competes with Tropos in the wireless mesh networking space. Strix's routers employ multiple radios.
In a wireless mesh, the network dynamically routes packets from node to node. A few have to be connected directly to the wired network, but the rest share a connection with one another over the air. Mesh networking is gaining popularity along with municipal wireless deployments. Hardware providers like Tropos, Strix, BelAir Networks Inc. , and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) have been teaming up with service providers to bring mesh to the masses. (See Mesh Fit for a MAN's Job?)
For example, Tropos teamed up with EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) to win the bid for a municipal WiFi network in San Francisco earlier this month. Tropos's equipment also is behind Google's free WiFi trials in Mountain View, Calif.
Strix teamed up with MobilePro Corp. to win a contract in Tempe, Ariz., that spans 40 square miles. The team plans to expand the network into the suburbs of Gilbert and Chandler by the end of the year, resulting in a 187-square-mile mesh, Chen says.
And traditional wireline carriers are getting into the game, too. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has teamed up with Tropos and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) to bid on a potential contract that would serve Grand Rapids, Mich., Sege says.
According to Sege, there are some 190 municipal WiFi networks in some stage of planning right now. Boston has commissioned a task force and is expected to issue a request for proposal (RFP) to vendors and service providers later this year. Washington, D.C., is supposed to issue its RFP "any day now," he says. Houston and Minneapolis both have issued municipal wireless RFPs.
This news could eventually be bothersome to carriers that specialize in cell phone services.
"Actually, I think it's the mobile operators who should be the most worried," says Esme Vos, founder of Muniwireless LLC, which tracks municipal wireless service deployments.
"If you are Comcast or AT&T or Earthlink and supply people with WiFi-enabled GSM phones or even cheap VOIP phones, give everyone a triple-play account (wireless broadband and TV and cheap VOIP), you can have mobile calling within the boundaries of the city at no cost -- especially if you use Skype."
— Carmen Nobel, Senior Editor, Light Reading