Clearing WLAN Interference

AirFlow wireless platform is designed to ease setup.

Startup AirFlow Networks Inc. will introduce a WLAN platform with features designed to ease configuration and set the technology apart from a burgeoning list of similar offerings, officials said.

Like its competitors, AirFlows platform centralizes management into the switch, but it also solves interference problems without the need for site surveys, officials said.

The AirFlow architecture includes a wireless controller in the form of a server or switch acting as a central AP (access point). Traditional access points in the AirFlow system are replaced by AirHub 100 packet antennas, which are like Ethernet hubs in that they do no more than connect users to the switch and require no configuration.

"You plug it in, and it operates," said Robert Machlin, president and CEO of AirFlow, in Sunnyvale, Calif. There is no security risk inherent in the simplicity, Machlin said, because all the platforms security features lie in the controller.

The packet antenna architecture lets the AirHubs coexist without channel interference, Machlin said. Interference can be a problem in offices with multiple access points, especially when the WLAN (wireless LAN) supports 802.11b, which runs on only three radio-frequency channels. The controller receives multiple signals from multiple AirHubs and uses the hub with the strongest signal as the return path to the client device, officials said.

Industry experts say this is what sets AirFlow apart from its many competitors. "The idea that you can eliminate the interference problem, not just manage it with site surveys and physical adjustments, is pretty powerful," said Warren Wilson, an analyst at Summit Strategies Inc., in Boston.

There are potential problems that AirFlow does not yet address.

"You still need some way to detect rogue APs and RF interference sources other than 802.11 equipment," Wilson said. "For that, you might want something like Cognio [Inc.s spectrum management products]."

Other than a companys budget, there is no limit to how many AirHubs an AirFlow WLAN can handle, Machlin said.

In fact, if an IT manager wants to overlay RF channels, the AirHub 100 series requires the use of a separate set of AirHubs for each channel. Future versions will support multiple channels, Machlin said. Future versions will also support 802.11a and 802.11g. The AirHub 100 supports only 802.11b.

AirFlow officials said the system is well-suited for voice over IP because hub-to-hub handoff is faster than traditional AP-to-AP handoff. Handoff between AirHubs takes less than 20 milliseconds, Machlin said.

On the head end of an AirFlow WLAN, customers can choose between the AirServer 500 and the AirSwitch 500, both of which include management and security features.

The AirServer is for those who want to connect their WLANs to their existing Ethernet network, and it includes just enough ports to do that.

The AirSwitch is for IT managers starting from scratch. It includes a 12-port 10/100M-bps Ethernet switch. The switch includes a port that supports visiting users through a password; Machlin described this as "a hot spot on a port."

The AirFlow system is available now. The AirServer 500 is priced at $7,500, while the AirSwitch costs $8,750. A starter kit of four hubs costs $1,000, with each additional hub priced at $450.

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