Mesh Casts Its Net

MeshNetworks Inc. is back!. Yeeaaaaaaagh!

It turns out that the startup -- which has been as silent as a fart in a yoga class for months now -- developed the mesh networking [ed. note: well, duh!] technology that is being used by Lockheed Martin Corp. and NextGen City to provide 57 square miles of wireless coverage for public safety personnel in Garland, Texas (see Lockheed Martin Picks NexGen).

The firm has also been busy on the standards side, according to Rick Rotondo, VP of technical marketing. It's working with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) to develop a mesh networking standard for 802.11. The work is being backed by such heavyweights as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) but is still in the study-group phase at the moment.

Rotondo is realistic about how long it may take for a specification to be developed by the IEEE. "In the best case scenario, it's two years off; in the worst case, it's four years off."

In the meantime, Mesh is using its own proprietary radio and software to power the NextGen City network. Rotondo notes that the network nodes have an open slot where an 802.11 radio could potentially be used in the future.

Rotondo says that Mesh Networks is planning to announce more metropolitan area wins soon. "We'll have three or more wins like this in the next 60 days," he crows.

Mesh networking -- you'll no doubt recall -- is the team sport of the wireless connectivity world. A mesh networking system passes data across a series of wireless nodes, and shares bandwidth among them rather than sending and receiving data from a central point.

The technology has been talked up as the next big thing in wireless for donkey's years with very little payoff (see Mesh Gathers Momentum and Commentary: Packet Relay Radio to the Rescue?. But now, finally, it looks as if it might actually take off.

As well as Mesh Networks, wireless LAN startups BelAir Networks and Tropos Networks are talking up metropolitan area networks using mesh technology (see WLANs Target Final Frontier).

Rotondo is trying to position his company as the big boy in the mesh networking crowd. He claims that the round of funding – which hasn't been publicly announced -- that his company has just closed will be its last and the firm is now bringing in steady revenues. "It was millions of dollars last year and we expect it to be substantially more this year," he says.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

fdacosta 12/5/2012 | 1:34:35 AM
re: Mesh Casts Its Net As founder and CTO of a Wireless Mesh networking company, I have pondered long and hard about whether or not I should make ths submission.

The buzz on mesh networking certainly works in our favor, especially since we start up mesh networking company. However, there is more hype than reality around mesh networking. In the end, that can cause the bubble around mesh to bust - rapidly. Its time for a reality check on what mesh can and cannot do.

First, Mesh networks are not a new concept. In some ways, the internet is a mesh network. And it works, despite its size - because it does not suffer from the limitations of conventional wireless mesh networks:

1-Radio is a shared medium and forces everyone to stay silent while one person holds the stage. Wired networks, on the other hand, can and do hold multiple simultaneous conversations.

2-In a single radio ad hoc mesh network, the best you can do is (1/2)^^n at each hop. So in a multi hop mesh network, the Max available bandwidth available to you degrades at the rate of 1/2, 1/4, 1/8. By the time you are 4 hops away the max you can get is 1/16 of the total available bandwidth.

3-That does not sound too bad when you are putting together a wireless sensor network with limited bandwidth and latency considerations. It is DISASTROUS if you wish to provide the level of latency/throughput people are accustomed to with their wired networks. Consider the case of just 10 client stations at each node of a 4 hop mesh network. The clients at the last rung will receive -at best- 1/(16,0000) of the total bandwidth at the root.

4-Why has this not been noticed as yet? Because first there are not a lot of mesh networks around and second, they have not been tested under high usage situations. Browsing and email donGĒÖt count. Try video - where both latency and bandwidth matter - or VOIP where the bandwidth is a measly 64Kbps but where latency matters. Even in a simple 4 hop ad hoc mesh network with 10 clients, VOIP phones wont work well beyond the first or second hop GĒō the latency and jitter caused by CSMA/CA contention windows (how wireless systems avoid collisions) will be unbearable.

Mesh networks are a great concept. But the challenge lies in managing the dynamics of mesh networks so users receive an acceptable level of performance in terms of both latency and throughput.

Its time to focus on solving some real problems to make mesh networks scale and provide stable performance.

In a future submssion I shall delve into some challenges facing high perfomance - enterprise class - wireless mesh networks.

For those who would like a quick preview, here are two links that migh interest you:



Francis daCosta
Founder and CTO
[email protected]
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