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Sunday, November 10, 2002

More WiFi Boosting Technology

An interesting piece from the NYT about a start-up company which plans to announce new antenna technology on Monday which, it claims, can expand the limits of wireless Internet, providing access to hundreds or even thousands of portable computer users at distances of more than 2,000 feet within buildings and about four miles outdoors. The technology, which stems from 1950's research for so-called phased-array antennas for military applications, makes it possible to electronically steer numerous radio beams from a single point. Focusing the beams increases their signal strength, and using large numbers of them greatly increases the antenna's traffic capacity:

The antenna uses the 802.11 technical standard, also known as Wi-Fi, which is currently limited to providing wireless Internet access to several dozen users within a few hundred feet of the transmitter. Wi-Fi is increasingly common in offices, airports, places like Starbucks shops and even in a growing number of households.

Executives for the start-up company, Vivato, based here, said they expected their technology to be especially suited to office buildings because it would enable so many more people to use a single Wi-Fi Internet connection simultaneously. "We will change the way people think about the physics of Wi-Fi," said Ken Beba, the chairman and chief executive of Vivato.

"Most people don't understand it, but the antenna is the most important part of any radio," said Craig Mathias, president of the Farpoint Group, a wireless industry technical consultant. Analysts who were briefed on Vivato's plans said that the technology was intriguing, but they warned that it had yet to be proved commercially —particularly in the corporate, or enterprise, settings that the company sees as its main targets.
"The entire market is scrambling to get some traction with the enterprise customers," said Sara Kim, a wireless industry analyst at the Yankee Group in Boston.

The idea of adding capabilities to antenna systems is not new for either wireless data or voice communications. Silicon Valley companies now pursuing such ideas include ArrayComm and SkyPilot. But analysts say Vivato is the most aggressive in making use of the inexpensive Wi-Fi capabilities that are already part of many desktop and portable computers, as well has hand-held Palm and other devices. Most other more advanced systems in use today require adding a special networking device to the user's computer. "The key magic here is our ability to talk to the standard 802.11 clients," Mr. Beba said. Vivato's antenna is meant to be placed in the corner of a large office and used to provide wireless service throughout a building. In contrast to many other companies that are trying to extend the range of 802.11 by creating meshes of access points, Vivato takes a more centralized approach by transmitting a series of beams from the antenna.
Source: New York Times

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