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Strix spins out mesh for the great outdoors

Strix Systems has released a mesh networking product line designed for outdoor use, and one California city explains how it's using the technology to build a public access Wi-Fi network.

Citing increased demand for scalable wireless networking gear that can stand up against the elements, Strix Systems Inc. this week released a mesh networking product line designed for outdoor use.

The Calabasas, Calif.-based vendor's new Access/One Network Outdoor Wireless System (OWS) features several types of wireless access points housed in weatherproof, corrosion-proof casings. The APs are designed to scale using multiple radios and channels for the highest possible bandwidth over several hops.

The new product line includes four models. The OWS 2410 and 2420 are both 10" by 8" by 6" and provide two and four 802.11 radios of any flavor, respectively. The four-radio 3620 and six-radio 3630 are both 12" by 10" by 6."

The sizes of the boxes differ in order to provide flexibility for each customer's specific needs, said Doug Huemme, vice president of strategic and channel marketing for Strix.

"We wanted to offer additional real estate in the boxes for third-party devices," Huemme said. "Whether it's additional radios, converters or something as simple as a cable modem, we left room for customers to add functionality should they want to."

While outdoor mesh networks are nothing new, until now Strix's customers -- particularly cities and local government agencies -- have had to adapt the vendor's indoor gear for outdoor use. However, the new outdoor gear provides a coverage range of up to a square kilometer per node, and power transmission support of up to 1 watt.

Along with the new product line, Strix has updated its management software to make it easier for companies to manage a mesh network that's both inside and outside. Customers can make device-specific or network-wide configuration changes using the Strix browser-based GUI, or any other Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)-compliant management software.

Huemme said the OWS is intended not only for private use by public safety and other government agencies, but also for full public access metro build-outs for and wireless ISPs.

The city of Hermosa Beach, Calif., has adapted a dozen of Strix's indoor access points for outdoor use, and is planning to use several dozen of its new devices as it builds a citywide public access Wi-Fi network that will eventually cover about 1.6 square miles.

Michael Keegan, a city councilman in Hermosa Beach, said after evaluating products from Cisco Systems Inc., Tropos Networks Inc., BelAir Networks Inc. and others, the city chose Strix because of its support for both 802.11a and 802.11g, Session Initiation Protocol and a future VoIP implementation.

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Using 802.11a for backhaul and 802.11g for client connectivity, Keegan said the city knew quickly that a mesh network was a "no-brainer."

"Mesh is nice because once we install it, we may expand the amount of nodes each year for different users or to add throughput," Keegan said. "And with the dual radio system, in three or four years we'll be able to expand to a point where we can take on all 20,000 city residents."

Keegan said he dropped his residential ISP several months ago and has relied on the city's mesh network for Internet access for several months. Though other municipalities have sparred with ISPs over public access networks, he said service providers and lawmakers shouldn't overreact when cities simply want to provide a connectivity alternative to residents.

Hermosa Beach plans to spend about $160,000 on the project, but that includes the cost of a minor fiber upgrade as well.

Strix's Access/One Network OWS is available through its network of integrators and resellers. Pricing varies depending on equipment and functionality, but Huemme said cost will typically fall between $2,000 and $4,500 per device.

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