CRN Interview: Gary Vacon, Propagate Networks

One of the more challenging issues associated with wireless networks is managing multiple implementations. Propagate Networks will shortly unveil RF management technology, called Auto Cell, that will be used by vendors such as Netgear, Chantry, Reefedge and Blue Socket to greatly reduce management headaches and even eliminate the need for site surveys. In an interview with CRN Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, Propagate Networks CEO Gary Vacon outlines how he perceives his company's AutoCell technology will change the future of wireless networking.

CRN: What exactly does Propagate Networks do?

Vacon: Propagate is about RF management but doing it using a low-cost method that fits into an infrastructure for delivering volume products to the market today. What Propagate Networks does is produces a little bit of software that sits in both access points and stations as part of a Wi-Fi network and it automatically configures the whole RF environment. That means there's no need for site surveys, there's no need for planning of any sort. You just put access points wherever you want, you put your stations wherever you want, you turn it on and it goes. Our vision for Wi-Fi is that Wi-Fi should work the way Ethernet works in that if you plug something into an Ethernet switch, you expect it to kind of work. You don't expect to configure the environment, you don't expect to have to sort things out, you don't expect to have to go looking for interference, you don't expect to have to construct a channel map so that you get optimum performance. You expect to just plug it in and go.

CRN: What's unique about your approach?

Vacon: Instead of building big boxes and raising a ton of money and having to charge a ton of money for the stuff that you built, we wanted to figure out a way that you can put the right intellectual property into a low-cost value chain. The low-cost platforms are all developed and designed in Taiwan and mainland China. So we felt that we needed to have a value proposition that fit into that value chain. The way that an end user or a reseller would know that Autocell was in the product is they see a little Autocell logo on the product, and the way we think about this is kind of the same way you might think about a Dolby on a stereo system.

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CRN: Is your Autocell technology then tied to the specific implementation of a wireless access point from one manufacturer?

Vacon: One thing that we've learned is that networks are always a culmination of the past and the future. Things have to work in a mixed environment, so the way our product works is that it works in any mix of products. The way to think about it is the more Autocell-enabled stuff that you put in the network, the better the network performance. The way that the product works is it self-organizes the network without any need for any help from the outside. We've also developed this application we call Autocell View that provides a map of the network and shows you what channels are working where and what kind of coverage you have. That product would be very useful to a VAR that wants to see the details of how their wireless network has self-organized and how it's working. In addition, we provide some control so the VAR can inject some policies into the network and ask it to do specific things. For instance, a lot of people want to have an overlay network for visitors that's on the wrong side of the firewall, the dirty side of the firewall, and they want their employees to be on the clean side of the firewall. The important thing is that because it's self-organizing, you can think at the policy level. You don't have to think like a mechanic.

CRN: So how will you interact with the channel?

Vacon: This is a product that is about to be launched initially with Netgear, Blue Socket, Chantry and Reefedge. They in turn bring their products to the resellers who distribute the product. I just kind of piggyback on their programs.