Unofficial History of Canopy

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The Origins

According to Wikipedia, the original IEEE 802.11 standard was released in 1997. Motorola contributed to the formulation of the original IEEE draft while a different group within Motorola was working on proprietary indoor wireless LAN products that significantly pre-dated 802.11 that operated at 18GHz. These products (called Altair) shipped for a couple of years before cancellation in the 1990s.

The original Altair development team held together and cooked up a new design with significant changes. Instead of 18GHz licensed, it'd target 5GHz unlicensed. Instead of a centralized architecture, it'd embody a distributed architecture. Instead of focusing on indoor LAN, it'd target outdoor service. Instead of marketing carriers, it'd market to independent providers. Wireless ISPs would be the target, and the development was code-named Whisp (for wireless highspeed internet service provider).


The Team

Whisp was developed by a small tight group from the original Altair:

  • Tom Freeburg - leader
  • Paul Odlyzko - systems leader
  • Gary Schulz - radio leader
  • Chuck Macenski - software leader
  • Chris Fay - FPGA
  • John Shaver - software
  • Rick Keniuk - radio
  • Martin Trettenbach - hardware
  • Marty Broeske - software

During the late 1990s Motorola would not commit to the whisp concept. By 1999 the corporation instead purchased an LMDS solution that was put up for sale. Bosch Telecom (Richardson, Tx) had an LMDS product which became a Motorola product called SpectraPoint. Focused on this broadband wireless business, Motorola could not become involved in whisp at the time. But SpectraPoint failed within a couple years, and the tenacious whisp team had no intention of giving up.

An opportunity to propose Whisp as a solution for DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications 5.9GHz automotive) was pursued in 2000, and was initially warmly received based on the strength of the working radios demonstrated. However, once 802.11a chips became available from Atheros the popular tide shifted to the solution with available integrated chipsets (and no integrated embodiment of whisp was planned by Motorola).

During the market slide that began in 2000 development funding became increasingly scarce, and Whisp productization was in serious doubt. Most Motorola research favored OFDM technology over Whisp even though no Motorola products had emerged.

Using creative solutions to save on costs and a fruitful partnership relationship that had developed with MarkIV (maker of Electronic Toll Collection ETC transponders ... a significant DSRC supplier), the team eventually tooled Whisp for production. MarkIV was located in Toronto, Canada ... hence the "manufactured in Canada" labels on all of the units used by early adopters.

In 2001 a test deployment was installed in a Chicago suburb just north of the Motorola Schaumburg, IL corporate headquarters (in Palatine, IL). The test system provided free trial service to about 100 Motorola employees that lived in the area.

The current product name "Canopy" was selected shortly before factory shipping began.

During the summer and fall of 2002, a new product appeared in the market.

Early software releases were given old testament biblical names. Obidiah firmware ran on board P5 or P6. Nahum was in some field beta units on P6 or P7 hardware. One wonders if there was a Jonah and Micah in between those releases and a Joel and Amos before. It is believed that Nahum was the last "named" release with numbered releases following. Generally available units were shipped with software in the 3.x.x range. (Is this correct, someone check this if possible, I am guessing).

It is certain that Nahum was shipping as of Sept 2002; Don Lashier of newportnet.com reports on part-15.org the following:

"Our initial deployment was Sept 2002, Nahum iirc. Oldest msg from this list in my save folder is also from David K, 9/12/2002 re comroestudios (whispermaper?).

- Don" And: "just checked saved msgs from the old wireless list and found stuff from early May 2002 including a post from Bullit on 6/1/2002 about the existence of this list and several posts from Chuck M. on 6/5, and posts in May from Brian M. (lastmilegear).

- Don"

So, May 2002 the existance of the product was being talked about. I know that I was looking at Proxim at that time. Later that fall I found out about Canopy and started comparing specs with Proxim very carefully. (Chuck McCown)


Steve Stroh gives more info on the design plans at [1]

Except for the reference to the China market, his tidbits are more or less correct (Chuck Macenski)


Please add to this page. Need names of the early adopters, more names of the development team, evolution of the software releases etc.

Bios of the Original Team

Tom FreeburgTom was a Corporate Vice President and Director of Motorola Labs. For 38 years, Tom worked to position Motorola as a leader for the future by exploring the ongoing convergence and intertwining of digital and wireless communications. He holds more than 55 patents in cellular-like data transmission, RF data transmission, and related technologies. Tom is a Dan Noble Fellow and recipient of the Master Innovators award.

Paul OdlyzkoPrincipal Member of the Technical Staff at the Broadband Wireless Technology Center of Motorola in Schaumburg. Before joining Motorola in 1989, he worked on flight simulation systems at Link Simulation Company and then on circuit and packet switching telecommunications systems at ITT. He began his engineering education at the Warsaw Polytechnic and holds a B.Sc. from Ottawa University and an M.A. from the State University of New York at Buffalo.