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November 30, 2004

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The WLAN marketplace was busy in 2004. Several startups merged or passed away while the industry's giant, Cisco Systems, and its consumer-oriented subsidiary, Linksys, have been busy consolidating their market share. Despite the growth of Cisco and Linksys, the WiFi industry is still dynamic and this industry will see even more change in 2005.

The selection process for the 2005 Fierce 15 was not easy. There were many companies to choose from, and many fine products caught my eye. This year's list should be taken as indicator of trends and developments in the WLAN market. In this spirit, I have selected companies which offer solutions and products addressing the following areas: Network infrastructure and architecture; orienting silicon toward WLAN infrastructure applications; intelligent APs, or thin APs with intelligent switches; extending the range of existing WiFi technologies; network performance optimization; network security; and roaming between WiFi and cellular networks.

I also took note of companies addressing more general needs: allowing communication among various protocols (WiFi, RFID, GPS); helping WiFi hotspot operators make money; and companies active in two emerging technologies -- Ultrawideband and RFID.

So without further comment, here is this year's FierceWiFi Fierce 15. Keep your eye on them. These companies are the future of this industry.

- Ben Frankel


San Mateo, CA

Why It's Fierce: AeroScout develops innovative positioning technologies for short-range wireless devices. The company's solutions enable connectivity between Bluetooth and 802.11 devices. The AeroScout WLAN location system enables outdoor and indoor location-based applications and bridges the gap between WiFi, RFID, and GPS. In early May, AeroScout and Airespace announced that Airespace will integrate the AeroScout active WLAN RFID tag with Airespace's Wireless Location services (AWLS) package. The addition of an active 802.11 RFID transceiver to Airespace's platform would allow for a complete end-to-end location tracking system, providing businesses with more powerful inventory management, auditing, and security capabilities. The company most recently raised $5.7 million in second round funding in February 2004.

What to look for: The AeroScout/Airespace collaboration aims to ride the wave of RFID popularity, and there is every reason to believe that the two companies have it right. Expect Aeroscout to offer more RFID applications to expand the usability and appeal of its solutions.


San Jose, CA

Why It's Fierce: As WLANs move more aggressively into the enterprise, the management and security of large networks with numerous access points becomes a more pressing issue. The company's enterprise WLAN platform has won many awards, including honors from Network Computing and Network World. Airespace has also jumped on the RFID bandwagon and offers a Wireless Location Services (AWLS) product suite, which combines location services with active 802.11 RFID tagging to allow IT staff to track and monitor mobile devices for asset management and resource accounting.

What to look for: Airespace is eyeing new markets such as mesh networking. Also look for the company to continue to expand its sales channels by partnering with major systems integrators. Expect the company to increase its presence in branch office systems, creating products to link APs with larger central switches installed on enterprise networks.


Airgo Networks
Palo Alto, CA

Why It's Fierce: The growing importance of WLANs in the enterprise also means that these networks carry an ever larger and heavier amount of traffic. Airgo's innovative technology, known as multiple-in, multiple-out -- or MIMO -- takes advantage of computing power to send a number of signals from closely spaced antennas, in the process squeezing and transmitting out more data than conventional wireless. Airgo is thus on the forefront of the shift to smart antennas, an approach now mimicked throughout the wireless networking world. MIMO technology has other applications besides computer communications: it is ideal for very high-speed wireless such as data connections for HDTV television sets and other home appliances. Airgo has to date raised a total of $52 million in venture capital.

What to look for: Airgo's MIMO antennas are perfectly suited for heavy enterprise and home-entertainment wireless traffic. The specifications of the forthcoming 802.11n are still being debated, but the two major proposals for the standard have one thing in common: MIMO technology. Expect Airgo's technology to become even more prevalent as 802.11n is ratified and as home networking proliferates.


Alien Technology
Morgan Hill, CA

Why It's Fierce: Thanks in part to Wal-Mart and the US Department of Defense, the RFID market is growing by leaps and bounds. Alien Technology intends to cash in on this trend with its innovative RFID tags. The company uses Fluidic Self Assembly (FSA), a patented manufacturing process, to create EPC class 1 tags and readers, which are currently used in a variety of applications, including supply chain management, logistics operations, and anti-counterfeiting. In April 2004, the company raised $18 million in its latest round of financing. Alien Technology is now working with Manhattan Associates and Microsoft to offer RFID-in-a-box solution.

What to look for: Thanks to the company's innovative technology and partnerships, Alien Technology is poised for success in an RFID-hungry market.


Aruba Wireless Networks
San Jose, CA

Why It's Fierce: Aruba operates at the key intersection of two of the fastest growing technology markets: wireless and security. The company is credited with developing the industry's first modular WiFi switching system -- in fact, some have said that Aruba's centralized wireless security system pioneered the concept of WLAN switching. The company's WiFi switching system offers comprehensive security which provides physical (RF) layer security, data encryption, VPNs, and user firewalls which protect users from other users. One example of the regard with which Aruba's security features are held: The US National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) Sandia National Laboratories has chosen Aruba's centralized security and WLAN management system to build a wireless network to service hundreds of simultaneous wireless users spread throughout the lab's large Albuquerque, New Mexico, campus. The system will provide Sandia with rogue AP detection and destruction, AP and station impersonation detection and prevention, ad hoc network protection, AP DoS protection, and protection against other wireless attacks such as man-in-the middle and MAC spoofing. Aruba has received $32 million in two rounds of venture funding.

What to look for: WLAN switch ports showed impressive growth in 2004. This growth is expected to continue in the double digits annually through 2007. Aruba is poised to cash in on this growth better than most of its competitors.


Azaire Networks
Santa Clara, CA

Why It's Fierce: Few trends have gathered momentum as quickly as the convergence of WiFi and cellular networks. The demand for convergence means a demand for mobile broadband solutions which combines the mobility of cellular networks with the bandwidth of IP-based networks. We are impressed with Azaire's WiFi/cellular convergence solution. The company's Converged Network Platform (CNP) integrates onto a carrier's existing network in a fast, non-intrusive fashion to provide in-demand features such as multi-authentication, integrated billing, and secure roaming. It delivers common data services and provides end users with a unified user interface. Several carriers around the world have already implemented Azaire's solution, among them Rogers Wireless (Canada's largest GSM operator), Mobilkom Austria, and GoMobile, one of Malta's mobile operators. Other carriers are now testing the platform. Investors also show confidence in the company: last month it closed $9 million in second round financing.

What to look for: The demand for seamless convergence will grow next year. Expect more carriers to adopt Azaire's CNP as their preferred way to integrate WiFi offerings with their cellular networks.


Austin, TX

Why It's Fierce: 802.11 WLAN technologies have many advantages, but range is not one of them. Bandspeed has developed the world's first wireless solution enabling deployment of spatial division multiple access (SDMA) sectorized switching inside 802.11a, b, and g WLAN APs. Bandspeed's Gypsy APs can support an area and capacity equivalent to six 802.11 APs in capacity mode, and provide up to 36 times the coverage of conventional APs in range mode. Bandspeed has also developed a technology which automatically adapts radio profiles to the surrounding RF environment. The company's WLAN switch architecture thus allows the deployment of multi-node networks which exceed the performance capabilities of more traditional WLANs.

What to look for: Bandspeed's SDMA components and software support its AP System-on-a-Chip (AP SOC) IC products. These products are ideally suited for applications such as Voice-over-WiFi and similar applications which are capacity and latency sensitive. As VoIP -- and wireless VoIP -- become more popular, Bandspeed's technology will prove very useful. Also expect Bandspeed to play a major role in cognitive radio (CR), a technology that the FCC is trying to promote.


Kirkland, WA

Why It's Fierce: Clearwire was created by wireless pioneer Craig McCaw. Clearwire's solution uses a wireless modem which can be plugged into a desktop computer, a laptop, or a local network. A month ago Intel and Clearwire announced they would partner to develop and install WiMax-based networks. The new partnership is a significant validation for the growing WiMax industry, as Intel's commitment to WiMax would benefit the technology in the same way Intel has contributed to the growth of WiFi. McCaw's Clearwire is ready to ride Intel's WiMax marketing blitz as it tries to prove that WiMax will allow it do what other broadband wireless technologies have not: take off with the consumer market.

What to look for: McCaw already owns significant wireless spectrum across the US and is deploying fixed-wireless broadband similar to WiMax in parts of Mexico and Canada. Clearwire recently debuted its service in Jacksonville, Florida. Expect Clearwire to offer its services in additional areas in the US, as well as in other countries. McCaw's endorsement of Intel's WiMax technology could bring significant new competition to both the wireless and landline data markets.


Fortress Technologies
Oldsmar, FL

Why It's Fierce: Fortress Technologies has been providing high-level security solutions since 1997, when it released NetFortress Classic, a plug-and-play VPN solution. Fortress' AirFortress security product was the first to meet the US government's stringent standards for wireless network security, and is certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) and the Department of Defense. Indeed, Fortress already has provided about 7,000 of its AirFortress Wireless Security Gateways to the Army for use with WLANs. The devices use FIPS-140-2-approved Triple-DES and AES encryption. Fortress has recently signed a technology partnership for joint solutions with Ascentry Technologies. Fortress will provide network security for Ascentry's interoperable wireless communications system which allows secure communications between emergency responders.

What to look for: Fortress is perfectly situated to exploit the growing need for wireless security. Fortress recently acquired technology and assets from the defunct switch-maker Legra Systems. Expect Fortress to deliver models of the AirFortress product line that include the acquired technology designs and Legra's switching innovations, offering customers a combination of wireless switches merged with high-assurance security (FIPS 140-2 encryption plus Three Factor Authentication) and policy enforcement capabilities.


Richardson, TX

Why It's Fierce: While there are plenty of vendors providing RFID scanners and wireless tags, many large businesses are grappling with the problem of managing all these devices. GlobeRanger provides a software middleware solution designed to address the problems of managing a network of RFID tags and scanners. The company's solution, iMotion, allows enterprises to integrate new RFID systems into their existing supply chain management infrastructure. The company has raised $22 million to date and has forged key agreements with leading resellers including the epcSTARS Alliance and Manhattan Associates. GlobeRanger will be at the forefront of the RFID revolution as the US government, enterprises, and key vertical markets continue to adopt this technology.

What to look for: Look for GlobeRanger to sign on more reseller partners and forge partnerships with leading IT integrators.


Propagate Networks
Acton, MA

Why It's Fierce: Propagate Networks is trying to solve one of the most persistent problems facing WiFi users: radio frequency interference. The company's answer is AutoCell, a layer of control code designed to make WiFi automatic at the RF level. When AutoCell-equipped APs are deployed, they scan or "listen" to the environment to identify interference and other networks, and then automatically tune to the most quiet channel. After doing that, the APs adjust their power up or down so as to minimize interference and, if AutoCell is loaded on the client radios, tune those optimally as well. Finally, when everything is connected, AutoCell balances the load of traffic across APs, significantly improving network performance. To date, Propagate has raised about $14 million in venture funding. The company has recently convinced Chantry Networks, Bluesocket, ReefEdge, and Netgear to adopt its technology, which is still in the beta phase. Others will likely follow suit.

What to look for: The frequency problems Propagate Networks solves are only likely to increase in volume and severity as the number of wireless devices increases and demands for wireless connectivity climb. Expect the company to convince enough of the important WLAN players to adopt its technology so that deploying and managing -- let alone using -- WLANs will get much simpler.


Carlsbad, CA

Why It's Fierce: Ultrawideband promised to change the WPAN and home media markets. Pulse~LINK owns a growing body of more than 200 issued and pending patents covering UWB wireless and wired communications technology. The company is moving across a wide swath of the UWB front, pursuing UWB communications applications in areas such as WLANs, but also over wired media such as cable television. In September 2004, Pulse~LINK demonstrated its RF ASIC capable of simultaneous transmission of UWB communications across several platforms, inluding: 750 MHz cable television networks, electrical wiring, WiFi, and Bluetooth. All of these were demonstrated in simultaneous operation from a single chip. Pulse~LINK recently concluded a $30 million Series D funding round.

What to look for: UWB will reach the market toward the middle of the year, and the pace will steadily increase thereafter in conjunction with the growing trend toward networked homes. Expect the company's technology to be incorporated into many home networking appliances.


ReefEdge Networks
Fort Lee, NJ

Why It's Fierce: Any enterprise faces communication challenges, but those enterprises operating in geographically dispersed locations face additional problems. These locations vary by size, business function, and wireless connectivity requirements, and they may also include a variety of legacy wireless devices, wireless clients, APs, and switches. ReefEdge's technology gives enterprises a multi-site WLAN platform capable of centralized configuration, monitoring, and RF management of remote locations. The company's solution also supports security and ongoing operations of the remote sites despite the cost and potential instability of the WLAN links. ReefEdge's attention to the problems of multi-site enterprises already gives it a specialty niche where demand is likely to grow.

What to look for: Expect ReefEdge's solutions to be adopted by more and more enterprises with multi-site management needs.


Staccato Communications
San Diego

Why It's Fierce: Staccato Communications is leading the industry's development of the first all-CMOS, single-chip UWB silicon. The company's technology promises to deliver low-cost, high-data-rate wireless connectivity for emerging wireless USB and wireless 1394 applications. Staccato is an energetic company: it has agreed with NEC Electronic to jointly develop 480 Mbps wireless UWB products, and has strategic partnerships with Samsung and Intel. The company is a leading member of the Multiband OFDM Alliance (MBOA) Special Interest Group (SIG). The company has to date raised a total $27.5 million in funding.

What to look for: Despite the standards bottleneck in the IEEE, companies
will bring UWB to market in 2005. Staccato's technology will be in many of these early UWB products.


Tatara Systems
Acton, MA

Why It's Fierce: Tatara's public WLAN system might help the hotspot sector finally make some money. The company's WiFi Service Delivery Platform allows retail and wholesale service providers such as mobile operators, wireline carriers, aggregators, ISPs, and cable operators to support roaming relationships without sacrificing security, control, advanced capabilities, or profitability. The solution allows access to critical WiFi service data such as usage and performance information (information is collected even while customers are roaming on partners' networks). The company also offers SIM-based authentication, roaming, and service delivery solutions for both aggregators and GSM operators. This information helps hotspot operators tweak and recalibrate their business model -- or roaming agreements -- and improves their chances of success in a tough market.

What to look for: Tatara's architecture gives service providers control over services, usage, network quality, and security using one centralized platform. Watch for large service providers and mobile operators to select Tatara to provide components for WiFi roaming and mobile convergence.


FierceWiFi is a weekly email service covering business and technology developments in wireless networking.

Editor: Ben Frankel - [email protected]
Publisher: Jeff Giesea

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