Mesh Goes Optical

By Eric Griffith

June 30, 2006

ClearMesh believes its Metro Grid can leapfrog both fiber and WiMax for metropolitan deployments, with the target being SMBs.

ClearMesh Networks of Pasadena, California thinks it has the solution for providing bandwidth to small businesses that are outgrowing their T1 lines.

"Small to medium businesses can't get fiber cost-effectively," says Fima Vaisman, senior vice president of marketing at ClearMesh (formerly Omnilux). "Most fiber core is dark. The access gap hasn't been bridged. We want to extend fiber without trenching additional fiber."

To do that, they'll use ClearMesh Metro Grid. Unlike most optical connections, though, this isn't just for extending a network: it's for building one. Metro Grid can create a wireless mesh network using free-space optics (FSO) instead of radios. Each connection has the capacity to handle up to 100 Megabits per second of data. Each pole or building mountable node (the CM 300) has three LED-based optical transceivers using the 850-nanometer license-free optical band, so that's 300Mbps per node. Each transceiver has a range of 250 meters (820 feet).

"There's no interference," says Vaisman, since this wireless is optical in nature instead of radio frequency-based. "With standard Wi-Fi and WiMax, the denser the network, the more interference and crowding. With ClearMesh, the denser, the better it works. They're inverse from each other. The more core we have, the better." Weather can, of course, have an impact, specifically fog.

Vaisman says the pricing for what they can deliver is competitive to T1, and much cheaper than burying new fiber optic lines. The transceivers can connect to each other with full-duplex communications, or they can connect to transceivers mounted on items like cameras, switches -- or, of course, Wi-Fi access points.

The relatively short range means this is not a solution for rural markets where you need more range. "There, WiMax is the ticket... but going into part of the metro area where there's businesses and everyone's got Wi-Fi in the office with lots of radio frequency gear deployed, this is the product for you," Vaisman says.

Each CM 300 node is going to sell for around $6,000; with discounts for resellers, Vaisman thinks it will average to $5,000 per node. Compared to others, this "shatters cost barriers," he says, suggesting that similar products could cost 10 times as much.

The LEDs used in the CM 300 are eye-safe — you can look at them without worry, unlike with lasers. The company says using LEDs also makes the nodes more reliable, especially when it comes to vibration that could disrupt a signal.

The nodes are managed by a ClearMesh system that handles all provisioning, even automatic acquisition of transceivers as new CM 300 nodes go up.

They've had some deployments in trials since May, and expect to announce where they are in August. The focus will be sales to service providers in the United States, plus through partners in Asia, especially in the ever-growing Chinese market. They'll also work with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that may want to private-label the CM 300.

"This is not competitive to Wi-Fi mesh," says Vaisman. "We don't offer mobility or reach — it's about density and high speed. Municipalities want to allow everyone to roam and browse, and Wi-Fi does that really well. But the focus we have on small to medium businesses solves a real problem for a specific customer base that's been ignored."

Comment and Contribute
(Maximum characters: 1200). You have
characters left.