Vendor seeks high-frequency bandwidth for wireless links

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission this month is due to close a public comment period on a petition from a Hawaii-based technology vendor that wants to use a high-frequency spectrum band to support wireless communications at gigabit speeds.

Loea Corp. said its equipment was designed to deliver the same kind of throughput that fiber-optic networks do. The point-to-point technology now operates in the 71-to-76-GHz band under an experimental license, but the FCC has a rule pending that would open that spectrum to commercial uses. A final decision on the rule is expected next year, according to the FCC. Loea, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Trex Enterprises Corp., in September 2001 petitioned the agency for the right to use the high-frequency spectrum for its so-called virtual fiber technology.

Loea CEO Lou Slaughter said the company is positioning its system as a low-cost wireless method of connecting corporate users to public fiber-optic networks -- what the telecommunications industry refers to as "the last mile." The technology could also be used as a backup to wired networks for disaster recovery purposes and to deliver wideband communications to geographically isolated areas, Slaughter said.

The system uses millimeter-wave transceivers to send "pencil beams" of data at speeds of up to 1.25G bit/sec., Slaughter said. If it gets FCC approval, Loea plans to sell the technology for less than US$20,000, he added.

Mark Mohlman, IT director at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island in Kane'ohe Bay, has been using a Loea link in beta-test mode since August to connect researchers and students to the University of Hawaii's campus on Oahu.

The marine institute, which is part of the university, operates a LAN that typically supports 50 to 60 users running data-intensive applications. Before the Loea technology was installed, data traffic between the institute and the Oahu campus or the Internet was bottlenecked by an 802.11 wireless connection that had throughput of only 2M bit/sec., Mohlman said.

The Loea equipment's transmissions tend to fade out in periods of rain, he noted. When that happens, the network automatically reverts to the 802.11 connection. Mohlman said he expects to mitigate the rain interference by having Loea replace the single 2.7-mi. link with a two-hop connection.

Rain attenuation is a potential problem for any wireless system that operates at such high frequencies, said Will Strauss, an analyst at Forward Concepts. But that's compensated for by the fact that the 71-to-76-GHz band is an almost unused piece of spectrum, he added.

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