Resiliency is of paramount concern for those implementing point-to-point wireless solutions to bridge hard-to-connect buildings or sites, as companies need to aim for the rock-solid reliability that is expected of a wired network and backbone.
However, eWEEK Labs recent experience with the now-defunct LightPointe Communications shows that network implementers need to weigh not only the resiliency of the technology but also that of its vendor. Networking vendors that embrace and offer a variety of technologies—rather than betting the farm on one technology alone—may prove to be the most stable.
With its reliance on FSO (Free Space Optics) technology, LightPointe achieved some success in meeting the high-bandwidth needs of companies looking to connect locations over relatively short hops. However, while rock-solid over shorter distances (500 meters or less), FSO becomes much less reliable at longer distances, particularly in harsh environmental conditions.
LightPointe representatives obviously recognized the weakness in their solution and were taking steps to ameliorate the situation. LightPointe in 2005 released the FlightStrata 100 XA, which included a redundant 5.8GHz radio and an integrated switch to provide a failover path for the optical link.
Ultimately, however, LightPointe did not have the technical diversity needed to survive today.
Other FSO vendors should take heed—particularly pure-play vendors such as fSona Systems. Canon and MRV Communications have products outside their outdoor wireless lines to fall back on, while Proxim has already diversified its portfolio to adopt (or acquire) different technologies to provide a more robust roster of offerings.
Other Outdoor Options
Where outdoor wireless is concerned, WiMax is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Although technically a broadband wireless solution rather than a point-to-point solution, WiMax could be a factor in the space.
An apt comparison would be adopting DSL at a remote location and configuring a VPN between sites—with WiMax instead of DSL.
Jeff Thompson, CEO of pre-WiMax service provider TowerStream, finds the analogy apt, saying he is seeing some customers adopt this model.
"I would not say [the number is] significant, but it has gone up in the last six months," said Thompson in Middletown, R.I. "Instead of having a point-to-point architecture among all their buildings, [customers] are getting one large connection to the Internet, at headquarters, and all their smaller offices get maybe a half-megabit connection with TowerStream and VPNs, which gives them even more diversity."
Of course, WiMax adoption continues to lag in the United States when compared with the rest of the world, as spectrum difficulties continue to play out.
Vendors of prestandard WiMax systems (such as TowerStream) are using the unlicensed 5GHz bands, but the first officially WiMax-certified products are geared toward the 3.5GHz band.
Things are looking up, as some new bands may be available for future use. Thompson is waiting on the Federal Communications Commission to rule on whether 50MHz can be made available for WiMax use in the 3650MHz band, and there are some proposals out there to use the white space between existing channels in the 700MHz band.
More closely analogous to FSO is an up-and-comer called Millimeter Wave. Like FSO, Millimeter Wave is a point-to-point outdoor wireless solution with greater bandwidth performance and range, yet with less susceptibility to environmental conditions.
Existing Millimeter Wave deployments can push through as much as 1.25G bps of full-duplex traffic, and work is under way to push the ceiling toward 10M bps. These speeds also come with the promise of much greater reliability and distance performance than FSO can offer, with some claims of five-nines performance with a 1-mile wireless hop.
Millimeter Wave comes in both unlicensed and regulated spectra. Proxim, through its acquisition of Terabeam, offers Gigalink products that operate in the license-free 60GHz band. Meanwhile, companies such as GigaBeam and Loea offer products that operate in the 71GHz to 76GHz and 81GHz to 86GHz spectra.
Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get to the Point (To Point)
A sampling of other companies making hay with outdoor point-to-point wireless technology
- Canon The Canobeam is probably the best-known FSO product, with several companies reselling the technology (www.usa.canon.com)
- fSona Small company dedicated to FSO (www.fsona.com)
- GigaBeam WiFiber Wireless Fiber is GigaBeams name for Millimeter Wave technology (www.gigabeam.com)
- Loea Offers Millimeter Wave products in the 71GHz to 76GHz and 81GHz to 86GHz spectra, primarily for government installations (www.loeacom.com)
- MRV Offers FSO wireless as well as Metro Ethernet and 10G-bit wired switches (www.mrv.com)
- Proxim Diverse through acquisition, Proxim has a small FSO line, unregulated Millimeter Wave technology and, of course, an extensive Wi-Fi product line (www.proxim.com)