A cure to citywide Wi-Fi woes?

Start-up Wavion says it has developed technology that fixes many problems early citywide Wi-Fi networks have faced.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
A new Wi-Fi start-up called Wavion Networks came out of stealth mode Monday and said it has developed technology to solve many of the problems big cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco face when deploying citywide Wi-Fi.

Interest in citywide Wi-Fi networks has exploded in the past year, with cities including Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago planning to blanket their cities with wireless Internet access.

But early deployments in cities, such as Tempe, Ariz., and St. Cloud, Fla., are resulting in contractors being required to deploy more access points than had been originally planned and subscribers being forced to attach signal boosters to their homes to get Internet access inside.

San Jose, Calif.-based Wavion, which is backed by venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, says it has developed software and silicon that not only increase the transmission distance of a Wi-Fi signal, but also alleviate much of the signal loss so that fewer people need to deploy signal boosters.

Locating local internet providers

"All the mesh Wi-Fi equipment makers use commodity chipsets developed for indoor use," said Alan Menezes, vice president of marketing and business development for Wavion. "People have stretched the current technology to use it outdoors, which is a tougher environment. We've developed something that provides the scalability necessary for true citywide deployments."

Menezes said Wavion solves these issues by using a version of MIMO or multiple input and multiple output technology, which uses multiple antenna to send and receive several data streams over the same channel simultaneously. He said Wavion's technology doubles the range of wireless signals from 600 feet, which is typical of gear from companies such as Tropos Networks, to 1,200 to 1,500 feet.

Locating local internet providers

The increased range means that three to four times fewer access points are needed to blanket cities, which Menezes said reduces costs by at least 50 percent. The technology also reduces signal loss, which is important for reaching users inside their homes, he added.

Even though Wavion plans to build and sell its own access points, it doesn't see itself competing with existing mesh Wi-Fi gear makers such as Tropos and BelAir. Instead it plans to partner with these companies, so that they can add the Wavion technology to their products. In exchange, Wavion hopes to license the companies' management and mesh software for its own equipment.

"These other companies are on their fourth, fifth and sixth generations of software," Menezes said. "We didn't want to come on the scene with another mesh product that competed. Instead we wanted to develop technology that fixed a lot of the pain points people are experiencing in early deployments."

Wavion hasn't yet announced specific products, but it has been testing its technology in an outdoor setting in San Jose.