Networking: Mesh networks taking off

Nov 21, 2005

Mesh networking -- the innovative wireless technology that delivers broadband content to computers -- is poised for deployment at a rate that may grow tenfold over the next five years, experts tell United Press International's Networking.

A new study, released last week by ABI Research, based in Oyster Bay, N.Y., indicates that much of the increase will come from municipal wireless projects that are increasingly appearing across the country, as local governments try to boost economic development by making high-speed Internet access available to all.

"Mesh network technology, with its ability to deliver real broadband without wires, changes the fundamental economic equation," John Logan, an attorney in private practice in Washington and the former acting chief of the cable services bureau at the Federal Communications Commission, told Networking.

This is so for several reasons, including the lower cost of installation of mesh networks, which use a combination of technologies, Logan said. "When you do not have to do major engineering, dig up the streets, lay large amounts of cable or construct large towers, the investment shift is dramatic," said Logan. "With mesh broadband, you mount a breadbox shaped router on a pole or lamp in under 30 minutes, and can deliver more bandwidth for a fraction of the investment. The price of broadband becomes affordable to the many."

The new study by ABI Research indicates that large Internet service providers will also likely embrace mesh networks. This includes providers like Earthlink, which don't own their own infrastructure to the extent that major carriers like America Online do. Earthlink recently inked a deal with the city of Philadelphia to provide wireless mesh networking capabilities there.

"Ubiquitous access to the Internet is what drove the city of Dayton to consider wireless mesh technologies," said William E. Hill, director of information and technology services for the city of Dayton, Ohio. "By working with HarborLink, a local wireless Internet Service Provider, we have created a public-private partnership that is ushering in a new era of free Internet access for all."

Major networking equipment makers such as Cisco Systems are also moving into the mesh networking market, which may take the technology inside the corporate enterprise. The company recently introduced an array of wireless mesh networking products, including wireless local area networking (WLAN) equipment.

"The market drivers that propelled widespread wireless adoption in the home and enterprise are now spurring a new demand to provide outdoor ubiquitous connectivity by wireless mesh technologies," said Alan S. Cohen, senior director, wireless networking business unit at Cisco Systems.

Consulting firm Accenture Technology Labs has developed a mesh networking case study that goes beyond even these corporate scenarios. The company is utilizing mesh networks to inspect tens of thousands of shipping containers by equipping each box with a sensor that can be monitored over the wireless network.

This so-called cargo monitoring is not 100-percent foolproof but is being tested for companies like BP's chemicals unit on rail cars and in laboratory settings too.

Some experts are so excited by mesh networking technology that they are going beyond the predictions of the report by ABI.

"I believe mesh networks will take off in the next six to 12 months," said Avinash Vaidya, president of SIPA, the Silicon Valley Indian Professional Association. "Mesh networking is a disruptive technology and solves the scalability problem."

Vaidya said that he thinks a number of companies will play a "major role" in the market, including Tropos Networks, Aperto Networks and Tzero Technologies. "The technology has already made news," said Vaidya. "It enabled wide-area hot spots that can be expanded on demand, adding more access points."

A leading technology analyst, Kirsten West, principal analyst and chief executive officer of West Technology Research Solutions, LLC, based in Mountain View, Calif., told Networking that mesh networking is the latest phase in the ongoing information age that has been in development for decades.

"We are spending more and more time thinking and less and less time performing physical tasks," said West. "Mesh networking is really the next step in this evolution. The convenience of a mesh network in a home or a business may be sold today as a cost value, but very soon it will be an integral part of society, as the remote control is to the television set."

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

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