Northwood preparing to meet 3G wireless customers

With Canada’s recent wireless spectrum auctions at an end, Nepean, Ont.-based Northwood Technologies Inc. is working to meet the expected demand for software tools that help plan out wireless networks.

Northwood, a developer of software for the wireless telecommunications and geographic information systems (GIS) markets, combined their markets in 1998 to create the deciBel Planner tool, a graphical interface that aids wireless network engineers in designing, building and operating wireless networks.

The engineering tool gives an accurate three-dimensional representation of an area and shows network engineers what kind of wireless coverage they will get by placing equipment on the map, said Johannes Hill, president and CEO of Northwood.

“So it’s an engineering workstation product in its current implementation, but we have product plans to take it beyond the workstation [into] a central server Thin client type of environment,” Hill said. DeciBel Planner 2.0 was launched in 2000, but network engineers will need more than just the starting package if they want to put together a wireless network. Modules for different technologies, such as CDMA, UMTS, fixed wireless, paging and urban cellular are sold separately. And now with the end of the spectrum auctions, Northwood expects its software and modules to be in higher demand as wireless developers start planning and building their 3G networks.

The software, which runs on Windows-based computers, aids engineers when determining the best place to put wireless towers to get the most coverage in order to maximize the coverage area. DeciBel Planner can also take the headache out of determining how much equipment is going to be necessary for a certain coverage area and significantly lower the amount of time necessary to get a wireless network up and running, Hill said. Once the network is going, deciBel is capable of helping to maintain and add to the network. Even the time required for driving around taking coverage measurements is reduced because the coverage is being predicted accurately, he said.

“You could imagine it would save literally thousands of man-hours [because of] the fact that you can do most of this stuff sitting in your office,” Hill said. “You can actually model your entire network and get pretty good accuracy as to what the real coverage would be.”

Ferdinand Aguinaldo, director of engineering for Walnut, Calif.-based Metro RF Services has been using deciBel Planner for almost two years to design and build wireless networks for clients. He said he likes how easy it is to use the graphical user interface of the software.

“It’s saving us time just because the data is so much easier to manage,” Aguinaldo said.

Every product, however, can be improved upon, and something Aguinaldo said he would like to see in future releases of the product is the addition of post-deployment tools that integrate statistic measurements.

Northwood’s deciBel Planner 2.0 costs US$20,000 for a one-user licence. Technology modules costs vary between US$5,000 and US$15,000. Version 2.5 is expected to be out around April. For more information, visit