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Citywide Wi-Fi equipment maker boosts speeds

Tropos Networks announces an upgrade to its product that will boost capacity 50 percent.

Cities using gear from Tropos Networks to build their citywide networks could have more bandwidth capacity at their fingertips this fall, as the company introduces its next-generation wireless gear.

On Thursday, the company whose gear is being used to build citywide Wi-Fi networks in Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans, will announce new equipment that will provide a 50 percent boost in capacity.

This boost could allow network operators such as EarthLink, which is already using the older generation Tropos gear in its deployments, to either increase bandwidth for individual users or increase the number of people it supports per wireless router.

The devices, called the Tropos 5320 outdoor MetroMesh router, use two radios instead of one to transmit signals. One radio operates at 5GHz. This radio will be used exclusively to link routers in the mesh. Because the 5GHz spectrum works at a higher frequency, it offers more bandwidth. But it also has more difficulty penetrating through walls or dense foliage. As a result, 5GHz spectrum is used mostly in line-of-sight applications.

The second radio in the new Tropos router will operate at 2.4GHz, just like the older generation of Tropos equipment. The 2.4GHz spectrum will be used to provide network access to users. And because it doesn't require line-of-sight it also can be used to link routers together when the 5GHz can't be used.

The next-generation equipment will be available in October. The company has not announced which customers are testing the products yet. The gear could increase the cost of building a Tropos network by about 30 percent, the company said. But company executives expect its customers will still use the older generation products as well.

"We expect customers to mix and match the new equipment with the older generation gear," said Bert Williams, director of marketing for Tropos. "San Francisco is a good example of how this could work. The new 5320 routers might be used to provide service in more densely populated regions, while the older 5210 routers could be used to offer service in less populated areas like near city parks."