By Eric Griffith
July 19, 2005
The equipment provider is backing a vendor group called the Wi-Mesh Alliance. Could mesh Wi-Fi be looking at the kind of standards battle that plagued 802.11n?
Never heard of WiMA? Well, as mesh networking continues to turn into the topology of choice for municipal and other types of wireless networks, the Wi-Mesh Alliance may become a name to garner attention.
Backed by powerhouse Nortel Networks along with companies like NextHop, Accton, InterDigital, Philips and others, the consortium said it would be taking a proposal to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 Task Group S this week.
Task Group S (TGs) is working on 802.11s, a standard for self-configuring wireless mesh, a move that would make all wireless mesh equipment interoperable like today’s 802.11b, 11g, or 11a networks (at least they’re supposed to interoperate). TGs is meeting as part of the overall 802.11 Working Group’s plenary meeting this week in San Francisco.
Other companies making complete proposals—that is, a document covering all aspects of how 802.11s would work—are Intel, Texas Instruments and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo. Several partial proposals will likely be submitted as well.
Right now, the players in TGs don’t really know what’s going to be submitted by the “competition.” Bilel Jamoussi, Director of Strategic Standards in the Chief Research Office at Nortel, was not ready to comment on what Intel or others might be proposing, saying instead, “We’re eager to understand the proposals from other players, to see where we can work and get alignment for the standard.”
Cyrus Irani, Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for Strix Systems, a company that has both indoor and outdoor lines of mesh equipment, says that to this point 802.11s has been focused on “ad hoc” indoor use of mesh wireless. “Ad hoc isn’t really applicable to an outdoor arena,” says Irani.
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However, Jamoussi says the Wi-Mesh proposal covers “all three market segments: consumers and small office, wide-area metropolitan deployments… and public safety and military applications.”
WiMA states that the Wi-Mesh proposal was “developed under the guidelines of the IEEE Standards Association” to build upon existing and pending 802.11 protocols. Indeed, their 11s proposal is actually radio- and antenna-agnostic enough to work with other frequencies beyond just those used by Wi-Fi, according to Jamoussi: “It’s just another layer on top that you have to deal with.”
Extensions will be proposed to make certain aspects of Wi-Fi—such as 802.11i for security and 802.11e for voice and video Quality of Service (QoS)—work seamlessly with 11s. That way, not just the link between client and access point would be encrypted, for example, but data would stay secure as it made hops all around the mesh network.
Will TGs fall victim to the in-fighting that crippled the ultrawideband standard and that has only recently seemed to thaw in the 802.11n high-speed Task Group? Jamoussi thinks it won’t, because mesh is already so popular.
“There’s such market traction, so in terms of getting a standard for deployment of wireless mesh around the world, the stakeholders will be eager to converge instead of dig in their heels to promote one position,” says Jamoussi.
Indeed market traction has more than doubled for municipal Wi-Fi networks alone, according to a Metro Broadband Access Report from mesh provider Tropos Networks, going from 48 late last year to 103 as of May 2005. CEO Ron Sege predicts 300 municipal networks by the end of 2005.
Strix, for its part, is staying out of things. Irani says the company was approached early on as TGs was beginning, but has decided not to participate actively in the IEEE 802.11s process until things are clearer. However, he says the company position is that it will “implement [11s] as appropriate in our products.”