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Optical/IP

Locust Meshes It Up

Even as major players such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) get hip to the potential of wireless LAN mesh networks, a tiny British company claims to have already installed about 200 of these networks around the world.

Locust World is an angel-funded startup that has developed an 802.11-based mesh networking system aimed at wireless ISPs, universities, corporate users, and housing developments.

The company aims to provide connectivity where cable/DSL providers fear to tread. "There are a lot of places where the phone company just won't go," chuckles Richard Lander, CEO of Locust World.

Which is where meshes come in, because these networks tend to cost less to install and maintain and can be used in areas where it is difficult to run cable.

Unlike conventional WLAN setups, where every access point (AP) is tethered to a wired connection, mesh networks use the multiple radio links available in 802.11 systems to extend the range of the wireless network. Network data is routed back and forth between the APs – each with a range of a few hundred feet or so, depending on where they are installed – and such networks typically only have one or two wired connections at their termination points.

Locust World uses APs that link to users via 802.11b [11 Mbit/s over 2.4GHz] but communicate machine-to-machine over 802.11a [54 Mbit/s over 5GHz] or 802.11g [54 Mbit/s over 2.4GHz] connections to form the mesh network.

On top of that, the firm has implemented a certificate-based security and encryption system for the network and a management application that allows managers to plot the position of the mesh "nodes" (a.k.a. access points) on a map.

Lander says that the firm has 8,000 registered 802.11 nodes installed so far. He estimates that this translates into around 200 separate networks worldwide.

A lot of the registered nodes are not fully live yet," Lander notes.

The largest single network that the firm has in place at the moment is a "50-odd node" mesh in a German housing complex, but Lander says that the firm has tested 105 nodes running together as a network.

There is a growing wave of interest in 802.11 mesh networking; in addition to forthcoming systems from Cisco and Nortel, a number of startups, such as BelAir Networks and Tropos Networks, are also pushing mesh for all kinds of applications, from corporate campus deployments to citywide public safety networks (see Cisco Creates Safety Net).

Lander says Tropos is the only other mesh firm that he has seen in the field so far. "We're out there doing this now, you know," he adds.

With Cisco and others looking with interest on this market, Landers may not be lonely for long.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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