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Traffic jam: Wider wifi highways may end data gridlock

Traffic jam
Image caption Traffic jam: Xirrus is trying to convince customers that moving from a three-lane wifi highway to a 24-lane road will cut down on data traffic jams

Each week we ask high-profile technology decision-makers three questions.

Pat Parker is chief development officer and vice-president, engineering, at Xirrus, an international wireless networking company.

Image caption Pat Parker says mobile carriers are 'overbooking' the bandwidth needed to use our smartphones

The company says their array-based technology delivers wired-like reliability and security. Xirrus is headquartered in Thousand Oaks, California, and is privately held enterprise.

What's your biggest technology problem right now?

That's actually kind of an easy one. In the wifi industry there are two frequencies that are used. That's 2.4Ghz, a lot of people know it as 11bg, and there's something called 5Ghz.

[The challenge is] convincing the world to use 5Ghz and the 24 channels offered in this band, versus the 3 usable channels in the 2.4Ghz band.

Unfortunately, the continued proliferation of legacy 802.11bg client technology continues, with the entire world sharing just three channels.

This leads to performance problems because of all the client devices are packed on those three channels.

Most smart phones still do not support 5Ghz, so all of them end up on one of the three usable 2.4Ghz channels as well, along with many, many low end laptops, netbooks and other entertainment devices.

Think of it in terms of heavy commuter traffic on a Friday afternoon, where you have a choice of being on a three-lane highway or a 24-lane highway.

I live in Los Angeles and I'd much rather be on that 24-lane highway which would be moving much faster!

What's the next big tech thing in your industry?

I believe that the next big tech thing in our industry will appear in two areas.

There's something interesting going on. The carriers are in trouble at this point. You and I have smartphones that have data on them. Well, the carriers do something similar to the airlines, and they oversubscribe their data networks.

What that means is they count on most of their people not really using it, or using it incidentally just for texting and stuff like that.

Well, all of the smart apps that are showing up on the smartphones, including being able to watch TV, this is causing an overload in their networks.

So what happens is that wifi ends up being their fallback mechanism. There are technologies that are being talked about, like 4G and things like that, but they're still kind of nascent or early days technologies, and they're still data only.

What's happening is that we see the carriers moving towards a wifi offload model, so they don't have to involve the cell tower in a lot of the connections that are happening where there's heavy data usage.

I think you're going to see carrier-sponsored proliferation of wifi density coverage into more public and private locations. In my mind that's almost a given at this point as there's no other solution that's workable out there.

The other big tech thing we will see is an increase in bandwidth again. This time, the jump in speed will come in the form of 11ac, which is spacial stream or channel bonding, allowing individual users to have more individual bandwidth.

While this technology is already appearing, devices to connect to it, however, are not evident right now.

We estimate this technology will take root and gain momentum in the beginning of 2013.

What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?

This question brings back a very painful memory, as the entire situation could have been avoided by doing deep due-diligence on the companies involved.

It was 1995 and I had just left Practical Peripherals which was owned by Hayes Modems. I was a hot shot VP of engineering in the modem space, which was on fire at that time, and was approached by an associate to do a turn-around on a struggling little modem company located in Portland, Oregon, called Prometheus Products.

So, either a long distance commute or a family move would be required, and I chose to move the family.

Having a tried and true formula for the development of a successful modem in hand, and not having done enough deep due diligence on Prometheus or its parent Sierra Semiconductor, I embarked on the journey to turn this struggling modem company around.

After about four months, I realised that the fundamental issue with the product was the underlying core modem technology used in the design.

The problem was that the core modem technology being used was being supplied by the parent owner company, Sierra Semiconductor.

It was twice as expensive to use as any other competitor.

I decided to quickly replace the core technology with a different supplier's modem chipset.

Well, because Prometheus was owned by a competitor to the other modem chipset technology companies, the other silicon chipset suppliers wouldn't sell to us.

After looking at the alternatives, we decided that Prometheus would not be able to overcome its cost issues.

Our parent company Sierra Semiconductor gave us 90 days to find a buyer, which was impossible, even though we tried.

A month after we shut the place down, I returned to beautiful Southern California, having lost a year of my life and re-learned a very valuable basic business lesson that I already knew and had momentarily forgotten - do your deep due diligence before joining a company - and know what you are getting into!

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