Nortel: Another Fine Mesh

Nortel plots commercial deployment of wireless LAN mesh gear

June 7, 2004

2 Min Read
Nortel: Another Fine Mesh

Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) says it expects to see the first commercial deployments of its 802.11-based mesh networking technology by the end of this year.

The firm has been testing the technology -- intended to reduce the cost of providing wired backhaul to WiFi networks by (surprise!) removing more of the wiring -- with BT Group plc (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) since October 2003.

Nortel is now getting ready to start phase two of its MIT pilot. The company soon hopes to add a wireless ISP and a university in the U.S. to that that list -- as well as a number of other tests in Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, Todd Etchieson, director of wireless mesh network business management for Nortel tells Unstrung"There's a lot of anticipation in the market," Etchieson says. "I think we'll be seeing commercial deployments in the back end of this year."

Nortel's mesh technology uses a dual wireless LAN setup to work its magic. Network users can currently connect via 802.11b (11 Mbit/s over 2.4GHz), although Etchieson says that Nortel will soon offer an upgrade to the faster 802.11g standard (54 Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) on the user channel.

Backhaul to a wired Internet connection like a T1 line is handled over a separate 802.11a channel (54 Mbit/s over 5GHz). The a channel is used because it offers more bandwidth and less potential radio intereference than b.

Of course, there's a little more to mesh networking than just a straight line between an access point and the Internet [ed. note: otherwise it wouldn't be much of a mesh then, would it?]. Unlike conventional wireless LAN access points, which are individually connected to a wired network, mesh systems exploit the multiple radio links available in an 802.11 system to extend the wireless range of the network, passing data back and forth over WiFi links to one or two wired connections at the end of the line.

Nortel is also using multiple antennas (a.k.a. "smart" antennas) in its mesh access points to increase range and capacity, although the company doesn't like to give detailed figures about the performance of its APs yet.

In general, the broad acceptance of 802.11 wireless LAN in public and private implementations has helped to spark more interest in mesh networking applications for wireless technology.

Nortel's rivals in this space include many startups like BelAir Networks, and Firetide Inc., Strix Systems Inc.. But it seems that Nortel may be the first of the major networking players to commercially deploy the technology.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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