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Analysis: Fixed Wireless

Even as most connectivity options get faster and cheaper, linking cross-town--or even cross-campus--locations remains a budget buster. Is today's fixed wireless the answer?

If you'e ever had to link multiple local buildings, you know the budgetary pain interconnection fees can inflict--you may pay tens of thousands of dollars per month just to span a few miles. There's got to be a better way, right? If you're lucky, you can take advantage of new options like metro Ethernet, which we discussed in "The Qwest for Last-Mile Connectivity". If you're really lucky, the city or county will provide right-of-way access to run fiber. But let's face it: Most of us have to make our own luck. Enter today's fixed-wireless systems. This low-profile technology is growing at a decent clip: The point-to-point wireless market is expected to reach $7 billion by 2009, up from $4 billion in 2004, according to analyst group Visant Strategies.

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Review: Point-to-Point Systems
Today's point-to-point systems are cost-effetive alternatives to typical leased lines or running fiber. We examined five radios from Alvarion, Motorola and Proxim, testing throughput, latency, VoIP/QoS and configuration tools. Find out if these offerings are worth the bulge to your budget.

We've always seen P2P (point-to-point) wireless as having attractive ROI, and products have evolved considerably since the first time we tested them--back in 2002, most were little more than 802.11a radios with high gain, directional antennas. Now, licensed and unlicensed microwave and FSO (Free Space Optical) systems from a raft of vendors compete to fill local interconnection needs. QoS (quality of service) means you can route voice over IP (VoIP) over P2P links for even more savings.

Organizations with critical systems will find fixed wireless a cost-effective backup to a wired infrastructure, especially since security capabilities have improved. Most vendors offer the ability to encrypt data, some using AES (Advanced Encryption Standard).

No line of sight? Alternate point-to-multipoint and mesh topologies can bring fixed wireless to more locations, but beware: Running afoul of the FCC can cause more than your wardrobe to malfunction.

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