Wireless network companies to watch

There are many emerging wireless technologies and companies, but few of them will actually affect corporate networks. (No, being able to watch last night's episode of "Desperate Housewives" on your smart-phone is not an enterprise application.)

Here's a look at five companies whose products could make a difference for corporate networks and mobility:

Azima

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, digitization 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.

DiVitas won't go into specific product details at this point.

It's currently doing interoperability testing 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 realize 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.

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