Optical/IP Networks

Mesh & the Mayor

A journalist friend of mine had a sit-down with popular Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper yesterday, and the conversation worked its way around to municipal wireless mesh networking. A pretty tech-savvy guy for a politician, Hickenlooper actually knows a fair amount about the technology. So when asked if Denver were planning a citywide wireless network, he said, "We hadn't been. But now I don't think we can afford not to."

Hickenlooper's candid admission that Denver -- the 25th-largest city in America with nearly 600,000 people -- can no longer stand idly by while other major metro areas deploy high-speed wireless networks shows how far wireless mesh has come in a short time.

There's been some debate in the halls of Unstrung and Light Reading about how much coverage we should devote to wireless mesh. Some people, including colleagues of mine, consider it primarily a solution for municipal workers and for public hotspots in libraries, downtown plazas, and the like. Its uses for enterprise will be minimal, these observers say.

As you might guess, I disagree. First of all, as Mayor Hickenlooper indicated, in a very short time -- the last six months, give or take -- wireless mesh networks have become a competitive advantage that no city wanting to attract progressive companies and technology users can do without. That in itself is a business story.

Second, wireless mesh is rapidly catching on for larger businesses with campus environments and highly mobile workforces. The obvious example is hospitals, but as the cost of access points and software comes down these systems will filter out to other industries and more compact environments where conventional single-radio wireless LANs are inadequate. (See Mesh to the Bedside.)

Third, as Brian Jenkins, VP of product management for mesh equipment provider SkyPilot, told me the other day, there is the unknown factor. How wireless mesh will enable mobile workforces within mesh-equipped cities is anyone's guess right now. (See SkyPilot Finds Muni Landing Strip.)

I'm betting that far-sighted IT managers are paying attention, and starting to make educated guesses, though. They can't afford not to.

- Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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