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Vivato Plans Ambitious WLAN

Vivato Inc. is a startup with an intriguingly different approach to providing wireless LAN connectivity for corporations and "hotspot" service providers.

The company's WLAN "switch" is designed to enable companies to provide wireless Internet access across large office spaces using just one box, rather than the traditional gaggle of short-range access points.

However, the one important question the company won't answer yet is how much its product will cost. This could prove to be a deciding factor in its success or failure, as Vivato is pitching against such industry heavy-hitters as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL).

Phil Belanger, VP of marketing at San Francisco-based Vivato, says the company will announce the pricing of its initial 802.11b-based product in January or February of next year. Belanger also hopes to announce the firm's first customers at that time.

For the moment, when Unstrung pops the competition question, Belanger says the Symbol and Cisco systems do not "address…the labor cost of installing lots of little APs [access points]." The Vivato system is just one box that has an Ethernet connection and power supply.

So how does it work? The initial box has a "smart" antenna system inside that can support up to three different 11-Mbit/s streams. That's a total throughput of up to 33 Mbit/s per box.

Traditional WLAN access points can only locate a user when they come within range of the physical box. So how does the Vivato system find its users?

"There's a scanner in there, looking for people," Belanger says. "A scanner, moving a beam around and listening -- when it gets a strong signal it remembers the angle, so that when we get a 'transmit' signal, we broadcast to that angle."

Belanger says that in tests using the system indoors, it covers an office of 100 meters by 100 meters. However, he says, the real benefit of the system is that if it is mounted outside the building, then it can cover several stories of floor space.

These concepts were all starting to ring some bells with your humble Unstrung reporter, so we asked Belanger if the company had ever been involved with the 802.16 standard and fixed wireless.

That was the focus of the company when it started two years ago, Belanger explains, but 802.11b appeals more to the investors. "802.16 seems to have got lost in the weeds," he says.

Vivato got $20 million in funding in March. Previously it had garnered $2.5 million in seed funding and around $3 million in debt funding.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung www.unstrung.com
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