Nortel: Another Fine Mesh

By Eric Griffith

October 13, 2004

After months of experimenting with the technology, the carrier equipment provider made its mesh architecture available for resale.

After months of experimenting with the technology, today Nortel Networks made available its Wireless Mesh Network solution.

The line of equipment is comprised of an access point (model 7220) and gateway (model 7250). The 7220 uses 2.4GHz 802.11b to provide what Nortel calls the access link—the signal for client systems—and an encrypted 5GHz 802.11a signal for the backhaul they call the transit link.

"It has a couple of advantages in that it is fully unlicensed, so you don't need any licenses to deploy, and with two different frequency ranges, there's no interference between the two [the transit link and access link]," says Todd Etchieson, director of Business Management for Nortel's Wireless Mesh.

While the 7220 handles all the mesh and clients, the smarts are in the gateway. Etchieson says it's the gatekeeper to the wired network or Internet, plus it has the smarts to manage mobility of users roaming between APs.

The 7220's limitation to the slower 11b for the access link may be short-lived. The units are supposedly 802.11g-ready, and will need only a software upgrade. However, Etchieson says there hasn't been a great demand for 11g by its current customers.

Nortel had set up networks to create hotzones at universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab and the National Taiwan University (NTU), and Etchieson says that there are other unannounced deployments in existence. The products will be available both direct and through channels, with partners like integrator Data Ventures planning to provide mesh networks in various U.S. municipalities—a market where mesh networks are particularly strong.

The company also has a more standard WLAN series of access points it introduced last year. Those won't go away, and Etchieson says they should live in harmony, as he sees them targeting "different applications—but not necessarily different markets. If you have Ethernet cabling running in your office, it makes sense to have traditional WLAN devices with power over Ethernet—they're less expensive. But in a large area, a public environment that needs some type of backhaul to each access point, then it makes sense to use the mesh product. They've very complementary."

He would not comment on pricing for the products, only to say they're in line with the competition, nor would he say what company Nortel sees as the primary competition.

"Our big advantage is, we're the only major vendor with this type of product," says Etchieson.

The arguable leader in the wireless mesh world, Tropos Networks, said today that it's also going to make it easier for municipalities to get started with its equipment, by selling a MetroZone Pilot Pack for a limited time. The pack, put together in conjunction with Pronto Networks, will include a Pronto Hotzone Gateway (with licenses for up to 100 simultaneous users) and five Tropos 5110 outdoor Wi-Fi cells. It will be sold only through network equipment distributor Graybar.

Tropos also joined the WiMax Forum with an eye on the long-range 802.16 wireless technology to be used in its equipment in the future. It says it is the "first metro-scale Wi-Fi mesh networking systems vendor" to join the industry consortium -- but Nortel joined the forum last month.

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