Musenki - Configurable, Extendable Linux Wireless APs for 802.11x & mesh networks

Gordon Mohr gojomo@usa.net
Mon, 15 Apr 2002 23:50:25 -0500


Austin-based startup Musenki is creating a series of rather flexible 
Linux-based wireless Access Points; they're already planning for 
multiprotocol support and mesh routing:

# "We feel that the additional CPU and the large memory resources 
# are going to be more and more important as 802.11x (x = a, b, g) 
# becomes the predominant method of client connectivity," points out 
# [Founder/CTO] Thompson. "In addition, as other 802.11 standards 
# mature -- for example 802.11e Quality of Service, 802.11i security, 
# 802.11f Inter Access Point Protocol, 802.11h Dynamic Frequency 
# Selection (DFS), and Transmit Power Control (TPC) -- we will have 
# the CPU power and architecture to allow us to incorporate these 
# improvements, as well as the future increased bit-rates planned 
# for 802.11a."
# 
# "Also, the minute you start thinking about 'mesh' routing, you need 
# lots of memory and CPU resources," Thompson adds. "Consider a 
# medium-sized city with 40,000 houses, all connected to each other 
# via a wireless 'fabric' at 20Mbps or more."

   http://www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT6271269832.html
   http://www.musenki.com

- Gordon
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# A sneak preview of Musenki's new wireless access point
# by Rick Lehrbaum (April 12, 2002)
# 
# Back in November of 2000, Jim Thompson, Kem McClelland, Brad Martin,
# and Jamie Thompson started brainstorming about the idea creating a
# company to specialize on the emerging market for publicly accessible
# wireless access points. They reasoned that there would soon be a
# significant opportunity to supply devices to public access "hot-spot"
# providers, wireless ISP/infrastructure providers (WISPs), and various
# value added resellers (VARs).
# 
# Thompson and McClelland were both senior managers at WapPort, where
# they had both been frustrated by the inability to convince existing
# access point providers to modify their products for "hot-spot"
# features, or even to allow Wayport to have access to their source code
# so that Wayport could make the necessary modifications. So the two,
# joined by Brad Martin and Jamie Thompson, decided to have a go at it
# on their own.
# 
# "My original frustration when I was at Wayport, was that we couldn't
# get any of the existing access point manufacturers (Cisco, Lucent,
# Symbol, etc) to embed the features we needed to deploy an 802.11-based
# "Hot Spot" service," recalls Musenki CTO and founder Jim Thompson.
# 
# Roughly 18 months later, Austin, TX based Musenki ("musenki" means
# "small wireless gadget" in Japanese) is poised to ship beta units of
# its first product -- the M-1 wireless access point. The devices, which
# are scheduled to ship to customers next Monday (April 15, 2002), will
# be sent to developers, strategic technology partners, VARs who want to
# start integrating their own features, and some prospective major
# customers. Among the significant customer prospects being sent beta
# units are several regional wireless ISPs and mobile operators,
# according to McClelland.
# 
# McClelland describes Musenki as a developer of "secure, open-source
# wireless networking products" whose "software and high-performance
# equipment enable open development, bringing expandability and
# customization to the wireless LAN market." Indeed, the company's first
# device packs a lot of computing power in a very small space, by taking
# advantage of some of Motorola's highly integrated PowerPC-based
# system-on-chip processors running at speeds ranging from 200 to 400
# MHz, along with high density RAM, built-in solid state disk (Flash
# memory), and internal expansion based on "miniPCI" modules. The use of
# built-in PCI expansion allows Musenki to configure its access points
# for a variety of wireless interfaces -- an important factor in an
# emerging technology-based market that has a long way to go before
# stabilizing.
# 
# According to McClelland, Musenki has incorporated several features
# into its wireless access points that are crucial to success in the
# public access market. These include tie-ins with external
# authentication and billing systems, roaming across various service
# provider networks, the ability to slot-in additional network-layer
# functionality such as VPN and protocol translation, and functions that
# enable the management of a large number of these devices disbursed
# over a large number of locations.
# 
# What's on the drawing board after the M-1 and M-3 wireless access
# points have made it into full production? According to McClelland,
# Musenki's plans include a number of technology and interface
# enhancements and upgrades, including . . .
# Client side devices (miniPCI/PC cards, particularly GPRS/802.11 combo
# cards)
# 
# Mesh networking technology
# 
# Technology for enabling seamless roaming, by means of cellular and
# WLAN networks
# 
# Additional security features
# 
# Integration with innovative antenna technologies
# 
# Expansion of the platform beyond the WLAN market
# Many of these will be accomplished through strategic technology
# partnerships.
# 
# Building in power and flexibility
# 
# Jim Thompson characterizes Musenki's first product as a Linux-powered
# 802.11 access point: "Its open, so the customer can make it do what
# they want" So flexible, in fact that you could use it for other
# things. "Like a sexy small, high-performance router," according to
# Thompson. "Take the 802.11b NIC out and install one of several
# available miniPCI modules with crypto/compression chips, and now
# you've got a VPN router -- with compression -- that will run at
# 100Mbps."
# 
# 
# [pic]
# Prototype of the M-1 access point
# 
# 
# Here is a summary of the features of the embedded computers that are
# built into the M-1 and M-3 . . .
# 
# M-1 specs . . .
# 
# Processor: Motorola MPC8241 running at 200MHz
# RAM: 32MB (default), 64MB, or 128MB of SDRAM
# Flash: 8MB (default) or 16MB
# 1 x Davicom DM9102AF (tulip-clone) 10/100 Ethernet on RJ45
# 1 x miniPCI socket (comes filled with a 802.11b NIC and "AP" software)
#  miniPCI socket has the pins for V.90 modem and 10/100 Ethernet brought
#  out to a second RJ45
# 1 x Smart Card (SIM form-factor)
# I2C header
# 3.5 x 3.6 in. (smaller than PC/104 form-factor)
# 
# M-3 specs . . .
#
# Processor: Motorola MPC8245 running 333MHz
# RAM: 1 x SODIMM socket, usable with up to 512MB (off-the-shelf
#  modules)
# Flash: up to 32MB
# 2 x Davicom DM9102AF (tulip-clone) 10/100 Ethernet on RJ45s
# 2 x miniPCI socket
#  first slot comes filled with a 802.11b NIC and "AP" software);
#  first miniPCI socket has the pins for V.90 modem and 10/100 Ethernet
#  brought out to a second RJ45
# 1 x full PCI slot (more Ethernet, T1, T3, additional 802.11a/b/g NIC,
# etc.)
# 1 x Smart Card (SIM form-factor)
# I2C header
# 
# Size: 6.0 x 7.0 in.
# 
# [pic]
# Closeup of the M-1's internal single-board computer
# 
# 
# "We feel that the additional CPU and the large memory resources are
# going to be more and more important as 802.11x (x = a, b, g) becomes
# the predominant method of client connectivity," points out Thompson.
# "In addition, as other 802.11 standards mature -- for example 802.11e
# Quality of Service, 802.11i security, 802.11f Inter Access Point
# Protocol, 802.11h Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS), and Transmit
# Power Control (TPC) -- we will have the CPU power and architecture to
# allow us to incorporate these improvements, as well as the future
# increased bit-rates planned for 802.11a."
# 
# "Also, the minute you start thinking about 'mesh' routing, you need
# lots of memory and CPU resources," Thompson adds. "Consider a medium-
# sized city with 40,000 houses, all connected to each other via a
# wireless 'fabric' at 20Mbps or more."
# 
# "One could run an 802.11b (or 802.11g) NIC in one slot and an 802.11a
# NIC in the second slot and have a 'dual-mode' AP, with all the gateway
# features still enabled," explains Thompson. "Or you could use all
# three slots -- one slot of 802.11b for older clients, one slot of
# 802.11g for those clients, and one slot 802.11a. Or you could cover a
# coffee shop with 802.11b/802.11a and still bring a DSL, Cable, or T1
# connection or even 802.11 'back-haul' out with one box, AND run the
# 'captive portal' on the same box."
# 
# Thompson explains that there are varied reasons for the Smart Card.
# "One of the most interesting is that if you're going to deploy this
# type of equipment into 'public access' venues, you need a way to both
# secure the contents against prying eyes -- and people who will dredge
# through your Flash -- as well as being able to potentially
# authenticate the equipment back to your billing system, if you're
# Wayport, Surf-n-Sip, VoiceStream/Mobilestar, Boingo, etc. We use the
# smart card for both of these, and more. Consider the use of Smart
# Cards in GSM phone or DBS satellite systems, and then apply same ideas
# here."
# 
# Embedded Linux inside
# 
# Musenki's wireless access points run a recent version of the Linux
# kernel (currently 2.4.18), along with other open source software.
# 
# "For Linux, we started with the PowerPC kernel sources from
# BitKeeper," says Thompson. For the bootloader, for example, they
# started with ppcboot sources and added 8245 support. "We've given all
# the code back to the community. Interestingly, I ended up supporting
# the 'Sandpoint8245' platform in the process."
# 
# "We did it all ourselves, with more than a bit of 'help' from the
# associated mailing lists," continues Thompson. "Linux mostly just
# 'runs', other than small bits of effort to get the on-chip serial
# ports working, and board-specific issues."
# 
# Why Linux?
# 
# "We see open source software as our greatest strategic advantage,"
# says McClelland.
# 
# "Essentially, Linux lets us do what we want to do, because we have
# source -- stand on the shoulders of giants, and not pay royalties to
# Wind River," Thompson adds.
# 
# The development process wasn't without its "bumps in the road",
# explains Thompson. For example, the time he discovered that the Flash
# memory bus was wired backwards on the 'BBWISP' board. "This is one of
# the places where 'open source' ruled for us, because I just hacked
# support in for changing the 'endianess' of the Flash bus to an
# existing driver for the Flash chip we're using," he adds.
# 
# Thompson claims it took him about half a day to solve the Flash bus
# problem, thanks to the availability of Linux source code. "I can't
# imagine having to do that on VxWorks," he says.
# 
# According to Thompson, the following open source projects were
# valuable to Musenki in the development of its wireless access point
# products . . .
# 
# PPCBoot
# PowerPC Linux kernel
# Busybox
# hostap
# uClibc (A glibc2 environment is also available)
# M.U.S.C.L.E (Movement for the Use of Smart Cards in a Linux
#  Environment)
# open1x.org
# 
# In nearly every case we've had to fix something or add functionality.
# We always give the changes back.
# 
# How will they cost, and how will they be sold?
# 
# Quantity one pricing for the M-1 (including 802.11b NIC, antenna,
# power supply, etc) will be $300, and the M-3 (similarly configured)
# will be $500, with quantity discounts available.
# 
# Beta units of the M-1 will go out on Monday, April 15th. Beta
# shipments of the M-3 are planned by the beginning of May. General
# availability of both should be by the end of June.
# 
# Initially, the units are being sold directly by Musenki, but the
# company is currently developing various sales channel relationships.
# 
# What's next for Musenki?
# 
# Musenki is currently staffed by six people (four founders plus a
# hardware and software engineer), along with consultants and part-time
# employees who have contributed to the open source, open architecture
# approach. Musenki is self-funded to date and is actively discussing
# additional financing with outside investors.
# 
# 
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