Mesh networking to fill in wireless gaps

December 15, 2005

When wireless networking was first introduced to the public in the late 90s and early 2000s, it received a mixed response. Some were interested in the idea of completely unfettered Internet access throughout a given area. Others wondered, who'd ever want to check their e-mail in the kitchen?

A few years later wireless network technologies have become a staple in many homes and offices. Relatively simple to install and configure right out of the box, this has become an excellent catchall solution for anyone wanting Internet access without wanting to install power or network wiring to a remote location.

Going beyond this, the next generation of wireless systems is set to utilize "mesh networking," a set of technologies designed to route data between relay points that require almost no configuration, are available at minimal cost and can "heal," or fill in, for any relay point along the network that may break down. Unlike traditional networking technologies, which typically distribute a feed from an Internet or server connection from a single source to other devices, mesh-technology devices can provide additional bandwidth to the network they're added to as well as set up their own networks without Internet access.

Bring these technologies outside the typical confines of a home or office, and new uses become apparent. Computer networks can be established by the devices themselves with minimal tinkering, local municipalities can set up city-wide wireless Internet zones, and emergency-management organizations can readily deploy a communications system capable of repairing itself if part of the network fails.

"The mesh is behind the scenes and is being used for municipal wireless networking deployments," said Phil Belanger, vice president of marketing for BelAir Networks, a wireless-mesh-product vendor, explaining the current role wireless mesh networking currently provides. "Early 2007 will be when it rolls out in devices and the homes.

"Wireless mesh can come into TiVo-type machines. Any device plugged into a power port can become an access point. As wireless clients move around, they can hit the closest mesh point," said Belanger.

Others see the future of wireless mesh technology as serving the outdoor/municipal markets. For less than the cost of reworking a city's infrastructure or purchasing and configuring several store-bought wireless relay devices, engineers can install a small, self-configuring device on a street lamp in under an hour and significantly increase the range of a local wireless Internet network.

"Mesh and online are a natural extension. There's unification between indoor and outdoor wireless and wired and unwired connections. The network doesn't care where you are," said Alan Cohen, senior director of Cisco's wireless networking business unit.

While still a developing technology with a final standard yet to be agreed upon, mesh networking has received accolades from high-profile efforts such as its inclusion in the Nintendo DS handheld game console as well as the announcement of the MIT Media Lab's intentions to incorporate the technology as part of the communications standard for its One Laptop Per Child units, an effort to provide several million laptop computers to children in developing nations. These devices are capable of finding and creating network connections with similar units with almost no need for user configuration.

"I think there are at least two separate directions this can go in," said professor Raj Rajkumar of Carnegie Mellon University's electrical and computer engineering and computer science departments. "Municipal locations like Philadelphia and other cities are using it to cover a large part of the region. The cost is relatively low, as you don't need broadband lines to each connection. You just install the boxes and they relay off each other.

"Secondly, these access points can enter vehicles. If cars talk to each other, it enables new types of applications," said Rajkumar, who pointed out how vehicles could share movement data and inform the driver of situations such as a nearby car braking sharply, then either warn the driver or assume control to avoid a collision.

After narrowing 20 proposals down to two, representatives from contributing firms and organizations will select the final standard for mesh technology at upcoming 802.11 technology conferences, ensuring the idea meets revised specifications for security and quality of services.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

Explore further: 'Holostream' allows high-quality wireless 3-D video communications

Related Stories

Mesh networking announcement, new spec from Bluetooth

July 19, 2017

(Tech Xplore)—Mesh-networking capabilities now in Bluetooth are making news. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced that Bluetooth technology has been updated with support for mesh networking, and Bluetooth published ...

Amazon drone patent has tracking, talking details

May 9, 2015

How might those proposed delivery drones from Amazon operate? Details have been published by the US Patent Office. By pulling data from people's smartphones, the drones may track the location of the delivery target. The patent, ...

Networking: Mesh networks taking off

November 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 ...

Greener disaster alerts

June 27, 2011

New software allows wireless sensor networks to run at much lower energy, according to researchers writing in the International Journal of Sensor Networks. The technology could improve efficiency for hurricane and other natural ...

Recommended for you

Unprecedented study of Picasso's bronzes uncovers new details

February 17, 2018

Musee national Picasso-Paris and the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) have completed the first major material survey and study of the Musee national Picasso-Paris' ...

Researchers create first superatomic 2-D semiconductor

February 16, 2018

Atoms are the basic building blocks of all matter—at least, that is the conventional picture. In a new study, researchers have fabricated the first superatomic 2-D semiconductor, a material whose basic units aren't atoms ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.