Wireless leaps

FRAMINGHAM (10/01/2003) - I've always been an appreciator of--if not adept at--the intuitive leap: those flashes of insight that forever change how something is done. Hank Luisetti's one-handed basketball shot. Henry Ford's assembly line. Doug Engelbart's mouse.

I recently saw a couple of products that probably won't have the same sort of impact as those groundbreaking innovations, but in their own ways certainly qualify as leaps. Giant steps, at least.

Network in an Instant

First comes FireTide Inc. (www.firetide.com). This startup just launched a product called HotPoint Wireless Mesh Router that lets you create a wireless "mesh" network based on standard 802.11b technology in an instant.

Wireless networks offer great advantages for flexibility and portability, but the name is a bit of a misnomer. Clients don't need wires to connect to the network, but all your access points do. As a result, implementing a wireless network often requires at least a little cable pulling. But with HotPoint, just plug it in, attach an access point to it, and away you go. Anywhere you have an AC outlet you can have an access point. Add as many as you want--the HotPoints automatically configure and reconfigure themselves to minimize network overhead and keep lines of communication up and running.

The product's initial market will aim at situations where running cables is expensive or simply out of the question. Need a quick network at a trade show or in a hotel? Drop a few HotPoints around and you're good to go. At $799 each they won't break the bank, either. Future products will integrate an access point into the HotPoint, saving you a "wall wart" AC adapter. The system will also see an upgrade to a faster version of 802.11 at some point in the near future. The HotPoint's design makes it easy for FireTide to adapt to the rapid changes in WiFi technology.

PC on a Card

Next is 14 South (so named because the company's Boca Raton, Fla., headquarters is 14 degrees south of IBM headquarters, and the company is a spin-off of IBM technology and engineers). The company's products aren't brand-new (they were announced in May), but I recently had a chance to chat with company CEO Sterling Wharton and he convinced me that the product is nothing if not unique.

The IntraLoc product line essentially puts a PC on a PCI card. The system runs in any available PCI slot on about any platform, from Windows to Unix to Mac. It takes the place of a standard NIC and runs independent of the system's primary operating system, allowing it to have a world of its own, immune from any problems that might affect the parent computer.

The system could do a lot of different things, but 14 South is focusing on security by putting a line-speed firewall (courtesy of CheckPoint) on the card. Various versions run at 10/100 or gigabit speeds without putting extra load on the parent system's processor. Pricing ranges from US$995 to $4,495 depending on features.

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