» Zhone aims to revive metro Wi-Fi
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Zhone aims to revive metro Wi-Fi
By Sarah Reedy

Jun 10, 2008 1:38 PM

Hoping to redefine the struggling metro Wi-Fi space, multiservice access provider Zhone Technologies today officially launched SkyZhone, what it claims is the industry’s first metro Wi-Fi system designed to cost-effectively deliver high-capacity, high-reliability, multiservice networks. The platform uses 802.11n, an all-MIMO antenna architecture, integrated DSL backhaul and line powering to provide wireless coverage in metro Wi-Fi markets.

SkyZhone, which received a NXTcomm08 Eos award for access networking, is already in trials or being deployed in more than 10 networks globally, including mid-Michigan telco ACD.net, supporting applications such as municipal public safety, video surveillance, consumer-use broadband access, and campus/resort environments. Zhone, typically a broadband service provider, is branching into wireless technologies to address the challenges wireline service providers faced in early metro Wi-Fi markets.

“The wireline service provider environment a few years ago was facing transitions – the move from TDM to IP, the addition of new services – in particular video – into the service mix and the move from copper to fiber,” said Steven Glapa, Zhone vice president of marketing and product management. “What happens for an access provider as they face all three of the things going on is their service and network architecture becomes messy. Things like ISDN are still out there providing residential voice services and will be for a long time. The vision behind Zhone was building this multiservice access box like a Swiss-army device – put blades in it to support any of these.”

The SkyZhone platform combines dual draft 802.11n radios powered by an all-MIMO antenna architecture, with five antennas rather than two, and comes in both combined and standalone configurations of 2.4 GHz or 4.9 GHz. Designed for licensed public-safety and unlicensed general-purpose applications, the platform supports up to 22 Mb/s of capacity per radio with low system latency on video, voice and gaming apps.

The metro Wi-Fi market lost a lot of steam as high-profile rollouts in cities such as Chicago, Houston and San Francisco caused many to rethink the market. Glapa said that past metro Wi-Fi projects have failed because of poor expectation-setting on the business side. Companies didn’t have the money to build networks, nor did they consider the possible uses, he said, citing muni Wi-Fi pioneer Earthlink as an example.

“They were building very capable networks to serve municipalities but only marketing it for consumers,” Glapa said. “They were a one-trick pony when they needed to be more. Same thing happened in cities with the expectations built on these networks. ‘We can expect endless bandwidth and perfect coverage.’ Combine that with the technical side of it – where you have a version 1.0 technology being used to build the networks out. In some places, it worked great – places like Riverside. In others, it was a disaster.”

Compared to the initial outdoor Wi-Fi projects, Glapa said SkyZhone simplifies the network planning, evolution and management to make it easier for service providers to provide access services in an economic way over time. SkyZhone increases overall network capacity, coverage and reliability by using existing network backhaul facilities and expanding on feasible locations for radio placement.

“When we jumped into this, we looked at what problems to solve,” Glapa said. “A simple list came to the surface – do what you can by leveraging the latest and greatest in silicone and standards and architectures. Second, make sure you could get more bandwidth into the networks.”

According to Zhone, mobile WiMax – the more prominent newsmaker of late – could be both a competitive and complementary technology to metro Wi-Fi. The biggest advantage of SkyZhone is the amount of backhaul, Glapa said. Each SkyZhone node has at least 10 Mb/s of backhaul to the wired network, considerably more capability than a mesh network in which nodes share a common backhaul – most notable in networks with video cameras or VoIP phones. Zhone will demonstrate its metro Wi-Fi solution at NXTComm08 in Las Vegas next week, where wireless coverage – whether in the form of WiMax, Wi-Fi or long-term evolution technology – will be a prominent theme.

“In the longer term, there is also a pretty interesting strategic story where telcos are worried about fixed-mobile convergence and what happens to their business,” Glapa said. “The basic idea is what you see happening in wireline access in terms of the dramatic changes in bandwidth behavior as they move to embrace video in their experience of the Internet. In that environment, the wireless providers and the subscribers for these networks are going to look for any possible avenue to increase what is being done in the wide area.”

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