802.11 Coverage for Miles and Miles

By Matthew Peretz

February 07, 2002

MeshLAN from MeshNetworks is coming to town, and it could dramatically alter the effective range of 802.11 infrastructures

MeshLAN Multi-Hopping software, announced yesterday by MeshNetworks, is capable of taking Wi-Fi networks and extending their useful range from distances typically measured in hundreds of feet to several miles. The product adds multi-hopping peer-to-peer capabilities to off-the-shelf 802.11 cards, according to the company.

MeshLAN software achieves this result by turning typical WLAN cards into router-repeaters. The result is a system that enables users who are out of range of an access point, for example, to hop through one or more users until they connect to the access point. The software also automatically routes transmissions from congested access points to uncongested ones. Overall network performance is enhanced in addition to the dramatic increases in effective range.

Peer-to-peer mode is part of the 802.11 standard but has not garnered much attention from corporate or consumer users. Most WLANs are operating in the infrastructure mode, in which multiple users independently connect to access points. This method severely limits the useful range of the network, forcing network administrators to add multiple access points to create an extended coverage area. The MeshLAN software uses the peer-to-peer capabilities that are built in to every 802.11 card to achieve remarkably increased network coverage by making all card users a potential part of the nexus.

The company demonstrated the effectiveness of MeshLAN software by loading into 35 laptops equipped with Wi-Fi cards from numerous vendors. The result was a peer-to-peer enabled WLAN with an effective range of 4.6 miles in this case! Video and voice sessions successfully ran between the computers at each end of the network.

Chairman and CEO of MeshNetworks Masood Garahi, in referring to WLANs, said that "The challenge is providing adequate capacity for users without adding significant infrastructure, management, and backhaul costs as these networks expand." The MeshLAN Multi-Hopping software both reduces infrastructure costs and increases effective range, by limiting the need for new access points and taking advantage of the peer-to-peer capabilities in the 802.11 hardware and standards.

MeshLAN software is now available to the company's strategic partners, with commercial availability expected in the second quarter of 2002. The product is designed to work with all commercial off-the-shelf 802.11 variants, including 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g.

MeshNetworks stated that it plans to license the software to companies planning to embed the technology into their 802.11 standard's compliant products or proprietary WLAN networks.

"Embedding MeshNetworks' technology will increase performance and allow vendors to differentiate themselves in the market by offering additional features, such as the geo-location and Quality of Service (QoS) management for voice, video, and data to their products," explained Peter Stanforth, CTO of MeshNetworks. "MeshNetworks' mobile ad hoc peer-to-peer networking technology is "radio agnostic" and therefore can be used with many different radio technologies and devices." The company will demonstrate its breakthrough technology and products at the CTIA trade show (Booth #5585) in Orlando, Fla. from March 18 through March 20, 2002.

Matthew Peretz is Managing Editor of 802.11-Planet.com

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