Mesh-networking vendor Firetide this week announced a strategic alliance and OEM deal with Netgear that calls for the latter company to license Firetide's WLAN controller software for use in Netgear's Pro-Safe 16-access point wireless management system.

Ksenia Coffman, senior marketing manager with Firetide, said the deal is part of the company's strategy to branch out into adjacent markets via partnerships. Netgear is branching out as well, targeting small and medium enterprises and schools — those with 50 to 200 users — with significantly lower-cost 802.11n Wi-Fi solutions. Coffman said the WLAN controller costs about one-third that of a controller used in a large enterprise.

"What they (Netgear) are doing is providing the same management capabilities, performance and robustness [that] major enterprises do with the same ability to scale," Coffman said.

She added that Firetide originally designed its WLAN controller to enable a single integrator to offer an entire spectrum of services, such as IP video. Netgear is particularly keen on providing robust video and voice applications.

Firetide recently forecast a 100% increase in demand for city-wide wireless mesh networks — its primary business. But it also has branched out into the smart-grid market, partnering with metering company Aclara Esco. It is expecting smart-grid projects to begin ramping up in the second half of 2010.

Firetide also is seeking a partner to help solve a growing problem in the commercial market caused by the explosive demand for mobile data services. Wi-Fi networks have been touted as a way to offload the heavy data loads normally carried by operator networks. Since Wi-Fi is so prevalent in smartphones, vendors are developing solutions that enable seamless handoffs between operator networks and Wi-Fi hotspots. AT&T already has embarked on such a strategy using its company-owned hotspots.

"Overall, our partnership strategy leverages our core technology expertise we've developed in mesh and applying it to markets that we won't sell into ourselves," Coffman said.

In related news, Ruckus Wireless announced an enterprise-grade 802.11n access point priced at $500 for the single-band product and $600 for the dual-band product.