The Next 802.11 Revolution?

By Brian Morrissey

June 13, 2002

Mesh networking promises to marry P2P and 802.11 to build bridges between isolated wireless LANs.

PHILADELPHIA -- The dream of some in the 802.11 community is to replace the hodge-podge scheme of disconnected wireless LANs with a floating system of self-forming, self-healing networks. And they think they can make that dream a reality in a few years.

"There's an interesting thing about 802.11 as it currently exists," David Spector, founder of Centerport, NY-based DropZone Networks, said Wednesday afternoon at the 802.11 Planet Conference, "it's about islands of connectivity."

The goal of mesh networks is to stitch those islands together into an archipelago of self-sustaining nodes, in which supplicants relay data to each other. This peer-to-peer network uses multi-hopping to eliminate the need to dot the landscape with hundreds of thousands of access points (APs), since every device would form the kernel of a potential network.

For example, Rick Rotondo, director of disruptive technologies at MeshNetworks, said a network of 20 supplicants would need three APs with regular 802.11 technology. But with mesh networking, it would need only a single AP, greatly lowering costs. Multi-hopping would also cut down on interference bottlenecks, which are expected to crop up with the limited channels in the 2.4 GHz band.

Orlando-based MeshNetworks was founded in January to commercialize quad-division multiple access technology that ITT originally developed for the military as a way for soldiers to communicate while in the field. Mesh Networks boasts data delivery speeds of up to 6 Mbps through the technology.

"Like any disruptive tech, you can't predict where it's going to go," said Rotondo. "Mesh networks will be used in areas we haven't even dreamed of yet."

Earlier, MeshNetworks announced a deal with auto-parts manufacturer Delphi to test telematic mesh technology.

"If Ford mesh-enabled and put it in Taurus," Rotondo said, "it could become the largest data carrier in a year" with nodes in over 1 million cars zipping around the country.

But that vision remains far off. Spector complained that it was difficult to draw the attention of venture capitalists, thanks to the general tech downturn and the meltdown in telecom. Gemma Paolo, an analyst with Cahners In-Stat, said she thought the greatest potential for mesh networking lay in home networks, but that it wouldn't be in common use until 2006.

"We're just starting to scratch the service with how this can be used," said Rotondo.

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