Pushing out the Mesh

By Eric Griffith

March 17, 2004

UPDATE: MeshNetworks revamps its technology to supply self-healing to third-party licensees.

When it comes to mesh networks (the concept), MeshNetworks (the company) says people don't want new products -- they want currently available wireless products to form the self-healing, self-configuring topologies.

The Maitland, Fla.-based company has been relatively quiet over the last year, since it started selling its MeshLAN products. Rick Rotondo, vice president of technical marketing at MeshNetworks, says the company sold "probably as much as all the other mesh to Wi-Fi guys out there today put together." Then they began to rethink things based on feedback from customers, who said they wanted mesh but only as an extension, not in different products.

"If it didn't work with their management system, had different security, etc., [they didn't want it]," says Rotondo. "They wanted all the usual products they could manage, without add-ons."

The company has scrapped its own Wi-Fi hardware and has instead this week unveiled MeshConnex (part of what they call MeshNetworks Enabled Architecture, or MEA), which disassociates the mesh from the radio. MeshConnex is a software developers kit that lets any radio network -- not just 802.11 -- build in mesh networking abilities. MeshNetworks will continue to use MeshConnex technology to manufacture and sell hardware based on its proprietary QDMA radio platform.

MeshConnex includes an ad hoc routing protocol called Mesh Scalable Routing and the ability to put mesh abilities into 802.1D bridges.

The company has already built a demo of the technology with Atheros 802.11a/b/g chips, which they're showing this week in Orlando, Fla., for attendees of the IEEE 802.11 Working Group meeting there. Rotondo says the first release for Wi-Fi will be optimized for Atheros chipsets. They expect to follow this soon with mesh enabled for ultrawideband (802.15.3a) or even Zigbee (802.15.4). The future WiMax standard (802.16) is one Rotondo considers "one of the better applications for MEA" but says the company is focused on .11 and .15.

One of the key differences between a mesh from MeshNetworks and other companies is that it extends the mesh to include clients. Most other companies, such as BelAir Networks, only use the mesh for backhaul connections. Rotondo says a new capability they have is "continuous meshing," which would allow moving vehicles to associate with the multi-hopping mesh as they travel within range.

MeshNetworks' MEA is already in use in some hotzones in cities like Garland, Texas and Medford, Ore., for use by municipal workers and first responders. Those networks aren't 802.11-based but use a wide-area radio called QDMA. They're working on others and expect to make some announcements on locations in the United States and elsewhere soon.

The 802.11 Working Group is currently studying the need for a mesh networking standard, but that would be many years from fruition, if it happens at all. Rotondo says MeshNetworks would support any standard that comes along.

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