Vivato Road Trip
By Sam Churchill
In its most expansive deployment to date, Vivato, “unwired” the entire downtown core of Spokane, Washington, providing free Wi-Fi for Hoopfest 2003, June 28 and 29, 2003.
Hoopfest is the largest three-on-three basketball tournament in the world. Vivato’s 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi gear provided blanket coverage for the event using their innovative, long-distance, Wi-Fi switch.
Can Vivato provide cost/effective, city-wide, broadband coverage for ordinary Wi-Fi users? I drove up to Spokane from Portland to find out. My impression: it works.
Six Vivato switches were mounted on the rooftops of the KHQ TV station tower, The Spokane Club, the Spokesman-Review newspaper building and Spokane City Hall. Backhaul was provided by 180 Networks.
Free Wi-Fi access was provided throughout the 40-block downtown area for the weekend.
Vivato uses phased array antennas to support simultaneous traffic for up to 150 Wi-Fi users. The Vivato panel connects to the backbone through an Ethernet port, which also provides power-over-Ethernet (PoE). They operate on the unlicensed 2.4 GHz and soon 5 GHz bands.
Vivato’s highly directive, narrow beams lock onto users with their PacketSteering technology, concentrating power like a movable, high-gain directional antenna. Different signals can be sent simultaneously in different directions.
On the top of Spokane’s City Hall (above), you can see the Vivato antenna. It’s angled down about 10 degrees. Vivato used six of its long-range, outdoor Wi-Fi flat panels for Hoopfest. Two were mounted on the roof of City Hall, one pointed North, one East. Five flat panels covered most of the 40 block Hoopfest activities. One Vivato repeater (a newly announced $500 product), was used for a “dead zone” behind a building. A few other “dead zones” were discovered and cellular-based GPRS radios covered them.
The antenna has 3 beams of Wi-Fi that are 7 to 9 degrees horizontal and 12 degrees vertical, which are distributed over 100 degrees of horizontal FOV. There are 128 elements in the phased array antenna. The gain is 25dBi. Input to the antenna is 2 1000BaseT and 2 10/100 BaseT ports. Range for the indoor antenna ($8,000) is 300m and the outdoor unit ($14,000) up to 4,000m. The antenna handles rogue detection and multiple VLAN security using PPTP and IPSEC security protocols.
The two-day amateur basketball event, June 28 and 29, involved nearly 7,000 individual 3-on3 basketball games and 25,000 players thoughout downtown Spokane. Over 6,200 teams played on 400 basketball courts layed out on Spokane city streets. Handheld PocketPCs supplied by Itronix used Wi-Fi supplied by Vivato to keep track of the scoring. Both Vivato and Itronix are home-based in Spokane.
My “test” gear consisted IBM X-22 Thinkpad (with built-in Wi-Fi), Netstumbler, a USB camera and an HP photo printer (I thought I might make a buck on the side).
Here’s my laptop running Net Stumbler, maybe 900 feet from the roof of City Hall (above) under the shade of some trees. I did not perform any detailed measurements or conduct disciplined, scientifically valid tests. Instead I walked around with my laptop and Netstumbler, tried surfing and email at a variety of spots around the 40-block area of downtown Spokane.
The plan was to get an impression on the effectivenes of Vivato’s technology and talk to people who were using it.
I tried a half-dozen different locations and could generally receive signals from 3-6 different channels (all using “hoopfest.org” as the essid). Signal strength was generally very good throughout the coverage area; +20db above noise and 500 Kbps throughput. Antennas seemed to cover 2000 feet or more pretty well.
The above photo was shot near the City Hall antenna facing East. It provided coverage near the clock tower (at the center of the photo). You can’t help but wonder what kind of range you might get with 802.11g or 802.11a. It would be less with 802.11g (at 2.4 GHz) but at 5.8 GHz, more (EIRP) power could theoretically be used. Vivato has said they’ll produce 5 GHz versions but no details are available yet. Vivato’s phased array antenna and switching electronics are integrated into the flat panel.
Phil Belanger, vice president of marketing at Vivato said, “ITU’s endorsement of outdoor use of the 5-GHz WLAN band, provides developing nations with “a cheap way to deliver broadband“.
Here’s some of Vivato’s crew at the tent. In the middle is Martin Gulseth, stategy and business development director for GDE Wireless, a value added reseller for Vivato in the Bay Area. He, and others, were anxious to see how the system performed in real-word tests. On the right, a Vivato engineer is working on Ekahau software which map out coverage intensity of the entire coverage area when used with a GPS receiver.
Itronix sales director, Syed Khusro (left), showed me their Wi-Fi GoBook Q-100, a PocketPC used to relay scores from 30 different locations around the city to a central, secure Web site.
The mobile score collectors used Vivato’s Wi-Fi links for most of their communications. Vivato isn’t a panacea; I was told the Wi-Fi service had problems handing off and couldn’t reach some of the remote corners of the event. For those applications GPRS data cards were substituted for the (standard) 802.11b Wi-Fi card.
Players and fans could register at www.spokanehoopfest.net to receive real-time tournament scores on their mobile phones via SMS. They were enabled by the mobile scorekeepers.
“The role of technology in producing an exciting, high-quality outdoor event the magnitude of Hoopfest is increasingly important,” said Tom Heavey, technology manager for Hoopfest. “Vivato’s Wi-Fi switches allow us to quickly deploy a wireless local area network that covers the whole of downtown Spokane.”
“The range of the Vivato Wi-Fi switch is amazing,” said Joel Hobson, technical services manager for the City of Spokane. “You can get a wireless connection virtually anywhere in downtown Spokane. The City of Spokane and its citizens have benefited greatly from partnerships with local technology firms such as Vivato and look forward to growing these relationships.”
Like 6-foot-8, 245-pound LeBron James, the first pick draft choice this year, Vivato is expected to resuscitate a moribund high-tech sector that is coming alive with wireless. They recently banked another $45 million in venture capital bringing their VC bankroll to a cool $67 million.
If Hoopfest 2003 is any indication, the future looks bright for Vivato and Spokane-native Skip Crilly, who founded Vivato.
I thought maybe I’d make a few bucks, too. I made a sign “Photomail – $2”. I went home empty-handed without so much as a single inquiry – but pumped anyway. Besides, there’s always the Seattle to Portland bike ride!