Wavion, a start-up that uses beamforming techniques to boost the range and penetration of mesh wireless access points, has launched its first product - an access point aimed at metro WiFi networks.

Wavion first appeared on the scene in May, and since then has been conducting field trials with Conxx, which operates a wireless communications network in the US state of Maryland.

Wavion says its access points can cover an area with one-quarter to one-third the number of access points that would be needed with hardware from other providers.

For instance, Wavion could cover one square mile with eight access points, according to the company; that compares with about 30 access points per square mile for an industry leader such as Tropos.

Other competitors include Cisco, Nortel, Motorola, BelAir Networks, Firetide and Strix. All make mesh access points, which pass signals from node to node until they reach the backhaul.

Wavion's APs use multiple antennas (Multiple In Multiple Out, or MIMO) and a signal processing technique called beamforming, which allows the unit to focus in a particular direction when transmitting or receiving a signal; this is also called spatial filtering or spatial adaptation.

It means the WS410 is better at minimising dead spots and penetrating obstacles such as walls than existing equipment, says Wavion.

The company believes providers can cut their capital and operating costs by more than half with its equipment, partly because there is less equipment to maintain and less real estate need be used to deploy over any given area.

A single WS410 device can serve up to 254 standard WiFi clients, using six radio transcievers and six 7.5 dBi omni-directional antennas.

It supports up to 16 Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs) and up to 16 virtual LANs, and can use power from standard AC, streetlights, photoelectric controls or Power over Ethernet.

Conxx said the WS410 delivered coverage of around 500 metres radius and 10-15 Mbit/s data rates, more than double of what the company had seen from previously tested equipment.

"We had come to the false realisation that WiFi equipment would have to be evaluated solely on its software features and not its RF performance. The WS410 changed everything," said Conxx CTO Jeff Blank.

Other providers may find it too risky to go with a start-up such as Wavion, but the company hopes to work with industry leaders rather than competing with them. It hopes to license its technology to other manufacturers, and in return, to license their more mature management and mesh software.

In the US, hundreds of cities are planning to roll out municipal WiFi networks of one sort or another.

The trend is beginning to catch on in the UK to some extent. Norfolk Open Link, which went live in Norwich on 1 August, claims to be the largest municipal WiFi network in the UK so far. It covers an 8-km-diameter area in the Norwich city centre, as well as local universities, hospitals and business parks.