Proxim packs Wi-Fi, WiMAX

Proxim Wireless last month released a low-cost, outdoor wireless-mesh access point that combines Wi-Fi and WiMAX radios.

In effect, the MeshMAX product makes it possible for many, even all of the nodes in a mesh network to have a backhaul connection to a base station and the Internet. Such an arrangement can boost the capacity of these networks dramatically because the client devices connecting to each node share a much larger broadband pipe to the Internet, Proxim executives say.

Typically, today’s wireless mesh networks have nodes — access points — that route data traffic among themselves over optimal paths and around failed or congested nodes. In addition, only a few nodes make a separate wired connection to the Internet, so mesh networks have to be planned, managed and calibrated carefully to minimize the number of hops from client device to Internet.

Some products, such as those from Wi-Fi mesh vendors including BelAir , Firetide , and Tropos , will use 2.4Ghz radios for client connections, and separate, dedicated 5GHz node-to-node communications. Some deployments can connect these nodes physically to a separate broadband wireless radio, including WiMAX, for the backhaul connection.

Proxim’s MeshMAX product does the same thing, with one 802.11b/g radio in the 2.4GHz band and one 802.11a radio in the 5GHz band for Wi-Fi connectivity. These radios are based on the company’s Orinoco mesh products, but MeshMAX adds a built-in, dedicated 802.16d, fixed, WiMAX subscriber-unit radio from Proxim’s Tsunami fixed-wireless product line, which can make the backhaul connection directly to a WiMAX base station. Thus, client, mesh and backhaul connectivity are integrated into a single box. The WiMAX radio, based on an Intel chipset, works in the 3.3G to 3.6GHz licensed band or the 5.1G to 5.8GHz unlicensed band. MeshMAX also has a Layer2 Ethernet switch.

“It’s cheaper to install [than two separate boxes], both capital and operating expenses are lower, and it’s all managed by our network management software,” says Pankaj Manglik, Proxim’s president and COO.

Proxim’s overall strategy isn’t unique. Nearly every Wi-Fi mesh vendor has announced plans to add WiMAX radios in the future. Recently, NextWave Wireless, a supplier of WiMAX gear to carriers and operators, acquired Go Networks for its Wi-Fi mesh and radio beam-forming technologies. NextWave also plans to combine both types of radio into a single product. Proxim says it’s the first to ship such a product.

Manglik says Proxim is seeing a trend in mesh deployments to increase the number of backhaul connections, typically from one for every six mesh nodes to one for every three nodes. The added backhaul connections increase the overall performance of the network, making more throughput available to clients. MeshMAX makes adding those connections simple and cost-effective, he says.

The WiMAX radio in MeshMAX has been certified already by the WiMAX Forum in the Tsunami product.

Proxim plans to support the 802.16e mobile WiMAX standard later this year, Manglik says, and the current MeshMAX products will be software-upgradeable to the mobile standard. Besides supporting roaming by mobile clients moving from base station to base station, such as radios in cars or trains, mobile WiMAX will make possible its own mesh connections among .16e nodes.

MeshMAX is available and starts at US$999 per node.

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