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john_dix
Editor in Chief

Start-up looks to solve WLAN RF problems

Opinion
May 10, 20043 mins
Network Security

Some early wireless LAN users say their largest source of headaches is radio frequency problems, everything from interference to playing with radio locations to optimize performance. Start-up Propagate Networks hopes to eradicate that.

Some early wireless LAN users say their largest source of headaches is radio frequency problems, everything from interference to playing with radio locations to optimize performance. Start-up Propagate Networks hopes to eradicate that.

“You should be able to just plug this stuff in and have it work, but you can’t today,” says Paul Callahan, vice president of business development and one of the company’s three co-founders. “Wireless is really, really busted. There are all these ‘a’ and ‘b’ and ‘g’ options and you need to tune stuff and it involves all this planning, which is totally stupid and counterproductive.”

And it will only get more difficult as the number of wireless devices increases and connectivity demands climb.

The company’s answer is AutoCell, a layer of control code designed to make Wi-Fi automatic at the RF level. Propagate has convinced Chantry Networks, Bluesocket, ReefEdge and Netgear to adopt its technology, which is still in beta, and hopes others will follow suit. If it can convince enough of the important players to get onboard, deploying and managing WLANs will get a lot simpler.

When AutoCell-equipped access points are installed they listen to the environment to identify interference and other networks, and then auto tune to the quietest channel. Then the access points adjust their power up or down to minimize interference and, if AutoCell is loaded on the client radios, tunes those as well. Finally, when everything is connected, AutoCell load-balances traffic across access points, optimizing network performance.

All of this is achieved by introducing signaling packets into the wireless stream, which Callahan says never represents more than 1% of all traffic, no matter the size of the network.

Product demonstrations are convincing. A roomful of different types of access points come online and adjust their power accordingly, endstations connect, and then everything balances out. This definitely would be a boon for any RF environment.

The question is, can Propagate convince enough vendors to sign on. After all, some of them fancy their RF management tools as product differentiators. And Cisco, the big fish in the WLAN pond, is said to be building its own technology.

Propagate has submitted its work as a standard to the IETF, but you can act now. Ask your suppliers about AutoCell and if they say they have something better, ask them if their competitors will embrace it. What we need is technology that spans proprietary products.