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Strix, a mesh equipment maker, says WiMax will be a plug-in radio: The company has multi-radio devices already that work in 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, and will support WiMax in licensed bands as well. A fixed WiMax and later mobile WiMax swapout for units in the field is just a radio away, the company says, when the equipment is ready. Strix also joined the WiMax Forum.
This is a pretty poor article in the International Herald Tribune about how mesh networks could help in emergencies like the recent bombs in London: The article defines mesh thus: “it links disparate hot spots into a single, expandable broadband wireless network.” It also says that mesh would have been particularly useful in London because there are lots of hotspots there already. To me, that sounds like mesh would connect a bunch of scattered hotspots that might be far away from each other and might be owned by different people. That’s not at all the case. In fact, the key to mesh is that every hotspot doesn’t require backhaul. Instead, hotspots can pass traffic one to the next until hitting one that connects to the Internet. But mesh doesn’t somehow magically connect different networks or hotspots that are individually owned. Also, like any wireless network, a mesh network could get so congested by users that it can’t carry any more traffic.
ISP Softcom built a mesh network in Galt, Calif.: BelAir supplied the network, which covers four square miles and 4,000 residents and uses 45 BelAir access points. An astounding 1,000 users are pre-subscribed to the network, which is only half built so far. The press release says that residents now have an alternative to DSL or cable modem service, but I’m not totally sure that means that those services are available to residents in this area.
The ISP took an interesting approach to building the network. In exchange for cheaper access, residents allowed Softcom to install the access points on the roofs of their houses. I’d do that. It’s a great idea, although I can imagine potential annoying problems with it. Softcom is also working with the city on ways to allow city workers and emergency services to securely use the network.
SkyPilot will begin offering a new mesh network product: The dual-radio platform uses Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz spectrum to reach end users and a separate 5 GHz radio for mesh backhaul. Wireless ISP MetroFi is endorsing the platform.
The mesh market is getting increasingly crowded. While many of the mesh companies use proprietary technologies, they also tend to leverage standards like Wi-Fi as much as they can, meaning that the lack of an overall standard may not be a huge issue. Operators must use the same vendor for an individual network, but they can still use different vendors in different markets. End users can usually employ standard Wi-Fi gear so the proprietary barrier doesn’t affect customer premise equipment.
Nortel is expanding the mesh network that covers much of Taipei: By the end of this year, the network is expected to consist of 10,000 access points that will provide coverage to 90 percent of Taipei’s 272 square kilometers. Already 28 subway stations and five underground shopping plazas are covered. In cooperation with Wireless Valley, Nortel developed a tool called MeshPlanner that helps map out where the access points should be located. Qware will operate the network.
The city of Portsmouth, UK, hopes its mesh network will reduce traffic: The city built a network using Motorola’s MeshNetworks technology. The network allows the transmission of GPS information from buses to bus stops, where potential passengers know how long of a wait they have in store. The city believes that if public transport is more predictable more people will use it, thus reducing traffic on the roads. Other cities in Europe have systems that alert waiting riders about when the next bus or train will arrive, though I’m not sure how the systems work. I was in a couple cities in Germany and Austria recently and found that bus stops in many places have digital signs counting down the minutes to the next bus arrival. Such systems might be wired when used in subways or trains. But the bus systems would have to be wireless.
CoConnect has finished building half of a mesh network in St. George, Utah: It has installed 100 nodes of what is planned to be a 200 node network, which is expected to cover 50,000 potential customers. CoConnect does not seem to be revealing the vendor. Residential customers in range will pay a mere $20 per month for 256 Kbps access.
Islington in London is to get a mile long free Wi-Fi network starting tomorrow: BelAir Networks, which offers a mesh solution, supplied the network. Users can access the network with 802.11b clients and BelAir uses 802.11g for backhaul. There is some inconclusive discussion in this article about how the free network will coincide with the commercial hotspots offered by BT. There are some vague quotes here from Phil Belanger at BelAir about how existing BT Openzone customers are likely to continue to subscribe to that service and that the free network is available for “other reasons” than to compete with the BT network. I would conclude that the free network could steal the minimal potential customers who might exclusively need hotspots within the one mile stretch. Otherwise, BT Openzone will still appeal to customers who rely on hotspot access throughout a broader territory.
Gunma University in Japan is testing a Firetide mesh network: The network will link surveillance cameras in parks. The university has tried other wireless networks but the networks didn’t work well because of dense foliage in the area. The university hopes to place nodes around the dense foliage to overcome the problem.
A study from Unstrung basically reports that mesh is finally up to snuff: This report may be most valuable for a chart that lists vendors that are making mesh gear and notes which markets each one focuses on. But it does seem that there have been an increasing number of mesh deployments which would indicate that the technology is becoming more reliable and useful.
SBC said it will deploy a mesh network for the University of Arkansas: Nortel will be the vendor. I would guess that Nortel is reselling someone else’s mesh equipment for the project because I don’t think Nortel has its own mesh solution.
This deployment is likely part of a push that SBC announced in 2003 to offer managed Wi-Fi services to schools and hospitals. I haven’t heard a lot about deals that SBC has won in the space since that announcement.
Universities have also been heavily targeted by the WLAN switch vendors. One of the major differences to a school between choosing an operator like SBC to deploy the network and going with a WLAN switch provider is that SBC will maintain the network on an ongoing basis. Usually the switch maker deploys the network or has an integrator build it and then the university maintains it on an ongoing basis.
RoamAD said it is licensing its software but won’t sell hardware any more: RoamAD’s software enables mesh Wi-Fi networks. Customers can either buy access points from companies that already make them according to RoamAD’s reference design or they can cobble together their own access points based on RoamAD direction using off-the-shelf radios.
This kind of change is an indication of the maturity of the market. Wi-Fi hardware is becoming so cheaply available that margins are slim for specialty vendors so they are concentrating on software that can give them an edge over other vendors.
RoamAD plans to migrate to support WiMax.
Three locations are trialing Firetide’s mesh platforms: Culver City, Calif. is using the network for Wi-Fi access and video surveillance in offices, St. Augustine College in North Carolina is extending its network, and the State Fair of Texas is using the network for outdoor video surveillance. DailyWireless looks at some of the other mesh networking systems that are out there. Mesh is maturing and may be improving, judging from the recent buzz around the concept.
Motorola is introducing a mesh networking platform designed mainly for municipalities: Each access point in the network can include four radios; two Wi-Fi radios operating in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band and two of Motorola’s Mesh Enabled Architecture mobile broadband radios that operate in the licensed 4.9 GHz band. The idea is that cities could deploy such networks to offer Wi-Fi access to residents but over totally separate radios offer a mobile network to public safety organizations. The press release notes the danger with trying to share networks between public safety and the public because the public might use up all the bandwidth. That’s not quite a valid argument because there are solutions out there that can offer public safety users priority. Nonetheless, having totally separate radios that operate on different frequencies is a sure way of separating traffic and ensuring that bandwidth is available for public safety users.
One of the most interesting aspects of this network is that the public safety radio users can use a capability that turns each user radio into a router/repeater. A user’s traffic can hop along other users’ radios to reach the access point. This concept has been discussed before but I haven’t seen talk of actual deployments. One of the problems with such concepts historically is what happens if no other user is nearby to carry your traffic back to the network. But presumably in this type of deployment a municipality could choose to deploy access points densely enough to ensure that users would be in reach.
Curiously, the press release is not posted on Motorola’s Web site and a search on the site for Motomesh, the name of the platform, comes up dry.
BelAir said that later this year it will start offering its mesh platform that includes backhaul radios based on WiMax: The system will use Wi-Fi to distribute coverage and WiMax to backhaul the access. If WiMax does become built into mobile clients, BelAir will develop its system to accommodate for WiMax access radios. The press release also says that the platform will also support cellular, but there isn’t much detail about which cellular technologies exactly it would support.
I spoke with an executive from Alcatel recently for a story I wrote for Wireless Week about HSDPA and learned that Alcatel will sell base stations that can support GSM, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA, and WiMax.
BelAir also said that it joined the WiMax Forum. The company has hinted historically that it would integrate WiMax into its platform if it seemed to make sense.
NTT Communications is using mesh networking equipment from Tropos to serve communities in Japan: The first deployment will cover the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni. NTT may also use the gear to build networks in cities and rural areas and chose Tropos after conducting a trial in Tokyo.
Mesh technologies like that offered by Tropos are good options for a lot of applications, particularly in the absence of WiMax standard gear. Some Mesh network providers, like BelAir Networks, talk about incorporating WiMax into their systems in the future. The result could be ideal for certain city-wide deployments.
Intel, which has been involved in the development of an 802.11s mesh standard, has introduced its proposal: The 802.11s group met for the first time in July and has issued a call for proposals. Intel’s plan builds on the existing 802.11 a/b/g standard, adding functionality that allows access points to discover each other, authenticate, establish connections, and support quality of service. Intel hopes that ratification of a standard may happen in 2008. If I’m reading this correctly, the idea is to make the mesh capability a software upgrade to existing 802.11-based gear.
Tropos, the developer of mesh networks, has added a new feature that allows network administrators to essentially separate traffic based on user groups: That means that if a city, for example, deploys a municipal network using Tropos gear, the city network administrators can allow different user groups to essentially have their own virtual networks, with individual encryption mechanisms and access control. Police, fire, and other city departments would individually administer and access their own network and applications and likewise residents could use the network for Internet access. Each user group’s traffic would be separate and secure from the others, so residential users wouldn’t be able to access police databases, for example. Tropos doesn’t use the term VLAN, or virtual LAN, but it sounds like essentially that is what is being offered here.
This capability is likely very valuable for municipalities. It means that a city can build a network but offer it to various user groups ranging from city workers to carriers who can then use the network to offer services to residents. Municipalities can more easily justify the network.