Wireless Infrastructure

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Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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Grow Your Own Wireless Broadband With Mushroom

A new product from Mushroom Networks allows businesses to provide their own fiber-speed wireless broadband connectivity in almost any location.

Mobile networks have become a viable option for network connectivity, competing with the likes of cable modems and fiber-based Internet service providers for many businesses. Mushroom Networks has introduced another option -- PortaBella, a unique mobile networking device that offers powerful, portable networking for a number of use cases.

Mushroom Networks specializes in "broadband bonding" technologies that create a range of interesting networking options. Where many of the company's products are rack-mounted and meant for fixed-location installations, PortaBella is made for travel and to provide almost-anywhere connectivity. "Porta" represents portability; the naming strategy is either goofy or cute, depending on your humor.

Regardless of the product's nomenclature, it's easy to appreciate the promise of PortaBella. In a highly mobile form-factor, the product aggregates up to eight USB mobile data adapters into a single bonded resource. Think of it as an ISP in a box. The box can go anywhere, with a built-in rechargeable battery option for when local power is scarce. The kicker: PortaBella supports cellular adapters of different technologies and from different carriers. This is the kind of bonding that Mushroom Networks claims as a core technology for its business model.

For those familiar with wireless LANs, PortaBella acts like a high-end wireless workgroup bridge for mobile networks, or an industrial-grade personal hotspot of sorts. Mushroom aims to deliver "fiber-like speeds" up to 65 Mbps for high-bandwidth or video-heavy functions. In my own operations, I can envision using PortaBella to provide event connections when I need a temporary network with robust Internet connectivity that can support site-to-site VPN extension of my enterprise network.

PortaBella can be configured as an all-in-one local network, providing router, firewall, and DHCP server capabilities. It also has built-in 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi access point that works at 802.11g/n. The device can also do simple pass-through on its 10/100 Ethernet jack if you want to connect it to your own router. Mushroom Networks' proprietary bonding technology promises that any drops to individual mobile network adapters will be transparent, with critical parameters like DNS load-balancing accounted for in the underlying technology.

PortaBella is an interesting approach with decent connectivity, but there is some fine print to understand before buying into the product. Depending on your plans for the remote end of the PortaBella link, you may need to invest in other Mushroom technologies.

For example, Mushroom's website says that live video streaming requires Mushroom's Teleporter solution, and webcasting needs the vendor's Streamer component for use with PortaBella. (Whether other technologies might be substituted for Mushroom's own in these roles isn't clear to me.) There are also complexities and advantages to connecting with Mushroom's Bonding Proxy Appliance, located in your data center, that affect the overall remote connection experience.

As someone who has tried with various degrees of success to provide a "go kit" for network connectivity or to extend my own Wi-Fi networks way beyond the norm to support specific events, I appreciate PortaBella's potential, and its price point (starting at a few thousand dollars). It's not easy to bring up a business-grade network in any location. The ability to include not only bandwidth but multi-carrier resiliency could be essential in the right scenario.

Lee is a Network Engineer and Wireless Technical Lead for a large private university. He also teaches classes on networking, wireless network administrtaion, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronc Warfare ... View Full Bio
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