Wireless Mesh Standard Coming

By Michael Singer

December 05, 2003

Intel and Cisco say they'll throw their weight behind a new criterion to make sure cellular and 802.11 network equipment can talk to each other.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Intel and Cisco Systems are poised to propose new standards to improve wireless networking.

The two Silicon Valley-based companies said this week that they will introduce an industry standard for wireless mesh networking during an inaugural study group at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) meeting in Vancouver, Canada next month.

Mesh is a network topology where devices are connected with many redundant connections between network nodes. The Internet is a good example of a mesh network. The architecture is now being used to help augment wireless LANs based on cellular or 802.11 technologies.

The problem, however, is that not all mesh networking gear is alike. Some are based on current wireless standards; others are proprietary or a mixture of the two.

"It's all over the map," said Wi-Fi Planet Managing Editor Eric Griffith. "Nortel is playing with it and there are a lot of startups but if you put all the mesh network boxes in a room and turn them on, they do not talk to each other. Some use cellular some use 802.11a. Cellular is good for mounting on telephone poles for longer reach. 802.11a is good for shorter distances and is great because it won't interfere with 802.11b or 802.11g networks."

Engineers from Intel's and Cisco's R&D labs said the goal is to avoid fragmentation in the marketplace.

Griffith said that if a specification is pursued it could be a standalone version or a flavor of wireless standards based on 802.11a, similar to how the Wi-Fi Alliance took parts of the wireless security 802.11i standard to form Wireless Protected Access.

Firetide vice president Dan Skilken told internetnews.com a standard is long overdue and said his company would be happy to participate in the process.

"It's not easy coming up with standards," Skilken said. "We want to make sure the standard provides things like self- healing and security. We want to make sure it is kind with other access points and other protocols. We have to be cognizant of the access point standards."

Firetide is one of a handful of wireless mesh equipment makers that are looking to extend the reach of hotspots . The Honolulu-based startup won a "Best of Show" award at this week's Wi-Fi Planet Conference and Expo. Other companies in this area include Strix Systems and BelAir Networks.

"It's interesting that Intel is involved with this," Griffith said. "Intel of course would want the standard to be addressed at the chip level. I get the impression that they are making up for their past mistakes. They were very late coming to the Wi-Fi party and now they are at the front of the WiMAX standard and now this."

Mesh Explained
In a true mesh topology every node has a connection to every other node in the network. There are two types of mesh topologies: full mesh and partial mesh.

Full mesh topology occurs when every node has a circuit connecting it to every other node in a network. Full mesh is very expensive to implement but yields the greatest amount of redundancy, so in the event that one of those nodes fails, network traffic can be directed to any of the other nodes. Full mesh is usually reserved for backbone networks.

Partial mesh topology is less expensive to implement and yields less redundancy than full mesh topology. With partial mesh, some nodes are organized in a full mesh scheme but others are only connected to one or two in the network. Partial mesh topology is commonly found in peripheral networks connected to a full meshed backbone.

The Wi-Fi Planet Conference and Expo is produced by Jupitermedia, and parent company of this Web site.



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