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August 8, 2006

PacketHop Expands into 4.9 GHz, Cell with Software Tools

By Glenn Fleishman

PacketHop releases version 2.0 with cell backhaul, 4.9 GHz support: PacketHop’s software platform is designed to allow those in public safety to work together without having a network nearby. The latest version of the software supports the increasingly popular and available 4.9 GHz radio cards that essentially port Wi-Fi into this coordinated, low-contention, higher-wattage frequency range. PacketHop 2.0 provides collaborative whiteboard, video sharing, and other tools useful in the field among any peers in a mesh of connections that can span thousands of feet. (PacketHop does not manufacture hardware; it’s an overlay product.)

When there’s cellular backhaul available on one of the connected devices, like a laptop with EVDO built in or an external card, the software can send video upstream with dynamic quality of service adjustments relative to the available uplink. Thus, you don’t get choppy video, but a lower frame rate or less resolution, which is far more useful. “Instead of trying to jam 30 frames per second through a 30 Kbps pipe, we can throttle those frames down,” said PacketHop’ chief executive and president Michael Howse in an interview last week.

Howse spoke to the benefits of 4.9 GHz and how it has started to flower with an increasing number of products appearing and license requests being made to the FCC by public safety entities. Howse said that PacketHop has been invested in the newer band for most of the firm’s history, and helped the push that led the FCC to allow 802.11 standards to be repurposed into this band. This has allowed the benefits of cheap Wi-Fi to lower costs in public safety wireless, and we’re just at the beginning of this.

Howse said that in their testing, they have seen ranges between two mobile nodes of thousands of feet. In one test, they reached 3,400 feet and “ran out of room on the road” to continue the test. “In any sort of realistic use case for our public-safety customers, 3,400 feet is something beyond what we ever expected when we started this business,” he said. Most clusters of use will be spread out over relatively short distances across city blocks, for instance.

With video being the primary application driver of interest right now, bandwidth is an issue for streaming that content among nodes and to commanders in the field. PacketHop says their software can facilitate 6 Mbps or faster connections over long distances. The 4.9 GHz band can reach these rates at long range because of the higher allowed wattage and the coordination by regional planning coordinators that ensure unique channels for different purposes across geographial areas. “It’s highly coordinated, and that really reduces any issues you may have during incidents and events. It’s the actual end users who are coordinating spectrum,” Howse noted.

PacketHop surveyed the over 700 entities that have submitted licensing requests across the country—some of these are as large as the entire state of Utah—over 87% have deployed service or plan to deploy service in that band within two years.

Howse said that PacketHop initially thought that they would be building out their software on top of hardware that would work in unlicensed 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands—souped-up Wi-Fi with high-gain antennas. It turned out, however, that their customers couldn’t achieve the kind of outdoor mobile performance they needed because of the noise floor in the band. Even with fixed outdoor nodes in good locations, they weren’t able to deliver on the video performance their customers required.

They put their eggs in the commoditization of 4.9 GHz, which is happening. Because most of their interest is in the field, PacketHop doesn’t find fixed 4.9 GHz access points of particular interest, although they can support them, partly because fixed APs in this band require waivers from the FCC to stay fixed for more than 12 months. The band is designed for temporary networks that appear and disappear, which is where peer-to-peer meshes fit in.

PacketHop, like so many technology companies, wants to get above the hardware level, of course, and have their customers never need to make decisions based on the limitations of their gear, another reason for the shift to 4.9 GHz. Howse said his customers don’t always understand multi-hop, mobile mesh routing and networking, but they “do understand what they want at an event or an incident is video, or they want multimedia mapping or messaging.”

Posted by Glennf at August 8, 2006 10:44 AM

Categories: 4.9 GHz, Software

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