There are many emerging wireless technologies and companies, but few of them will actually affect corporate networks. Here's a look at five companies whose products could make a difference for corporate networks and mobility:
Azima offers a hosted predictive maintenance service to Fortune 100 and 300 clients such as utilities, steel companies, paper mills and pharmaceutical companies. It's made possible and affordable by 802.11b wireless LAN (WLAN) connections.
Azima installs a box, called the Azima Hub, near a machine such as a generator. The Hub connects via wires to existing or new sensors on the machine that are fitted to measure vibration, temperature and other variables. Sensors send analog data to the Hub for collection, digitisation and preprocessing.
Using an embedded 802.11b radio, the Hub connects to a wireless access point, typically already in place as part of the plant's network. Azima uses various encryption schemes and other techniques to keep the data separate from the rest of the network. The data is sent via an Internet connection to Azima's hosted data center, where it's sifted by a bundle of Azima analytical tools.
Most current customers make use of a service that includes diagnosticians who monitor customer networks and advise clients on potential problems.
"Wireless is the enabler," says Jonathan Hakim, Azima's CEO. "It makes possible low-cost plant deployments."
- DiVitas Networks
DiVitas Networks debuted in April, and plans to announce formally its Wi-Fi/cellular convergence product later this year.
The idea of having a smart-phone that can shift seamlessly between cellular networks and VoIP on WLANs is attractive: It bridges the gulf between separate communications media. Voice, text and enterprise applications can be brought to a single handset.
Bridgeport Networks, Verisign and newcomer Cicero Networks are vendors already in this market, but most of these companies focus on software that resides on carrier networks. DiVitas is creating enterprise software that runs behind a customer's firewall, and works with any carrier and cellular network, according to Richard Watson, the company's director of product management. Nothing has to be added to the carrier network.
It's currently doing interoperability testing and working on partnerships with a range of WLAN vendors, including Meru, Symbol Technologies and Trapeze Networks.
- G2 Microsystems
G2 is a fabless semiconductor designer. Its product is an ultra low-power chip that combines an 802.11b radio with the ISO 24730 protocol for location services, a 900-MHz Electronic Product Code interface and an interface that lets various sensors attach directly.
G2's silicon will be the heart of an active RFID system based on 802.11. Because it's active, not passive, a tag with the G2 chip sends out its own signal, eliminating the need for a complex and costly infrastructure of reader devices. Because it's 802.11-based, the tag can exploit already installed WLANs at plants, warehouses, docks and other locations.
The company uses several algorithms for fixing a tag's location, says John Gloeker, CEO.
"People are starting to realise that [passive] RFID is very expensive," Gloeker says. "Most customers want to track just a few items. 802.11 lets you leverage your existing infrastructure."
The low power demand of the chip means batteries have to be replaced much less frequently, saving a lot of money and time.
The production release of the G2 chip is scheduled for this September.
Entellium, in Seattle, is a hosted CRM vendor founded in 2000. It has introduced a sales force automation application created with the help of video game designers.
The application, eMobile, was designed from the ground up for mobile or wireless users. Entellium hired professional gamers as part of eMobile's design team. Almost the first step was to throw out Windows GUI conventions.
"The typical Windows Forms interface is in our opinion an obstacle to use," says Paul Johnston, Entellium president and CEO. "We think the No. 1 design criteria is: Be able to use this application with one hand." The inspiration: Apple's iPod.
The application is written in Java and runs on any handset or mobile device with a Java virtual machine. Users connect to Entellium's service over General Packet Radio Service or Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution cellular networks, and log on. They use a thumb wheel on the handset to navigate through a series of carefully designed, nested menus, such as What's New and Today, and drill down into details through nested pick lists.
The application takes about 400K to 500KB of memory. It can cache a certain amount of data locally. If the connection drops, eMobile is smart enough to know whether an update completed and if not, to finish it when the link is restored.
NewLANS is developing technology that will deliver multi-gigabit WLANs. That's multi-gigabit. That means creating a wireless link to the client PC that's comparable in every respect to a Gigabit Ethernet wire.
The company proposes to use 7 GHz of unlicensed spectrum in the 60-GHz band. The spectrum was freed by the FCC for this purpose a few years ago [We're skeptical at Techworld. The short range of 60GHz signals gives them more the function of high-speed IRDA].
The company was founded by Dev Gupta, and very few details of its backing or development are public. In various research papers, company officers outline the development of media access control and physical layers for the 60-GHz band, and note that together these layers can support a wireless network that seamlessly spans outdoors and indoors. Small, smart antennas will improve network reliability significantly for the gigabit WLAN.
A new wireless infrastructure architecture will have to be developed for the enterprise, according to one paper. A key element will be an aggregator, a Layer 2 device that will terminate wired connections from the new access points and sit in the enterprise data center. That will eliminate the wiring closet switches needed for today's 802.11-based WLANs, according to the paper.
The aggregator also will control and manage the wireless clients and coordinate load balancing among the access points.
NewLANS is not alone. Extricom and SiBeam are also reportedly aiming at gigabit wireless.