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Motorola Maps Mesh Upgrade

Looking to beef up lackluster performance by its networking equipment division, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) today said it will provide over-the-air downloads to enable users of its MeshConnex technology to upgrade to the emerging 802.11s standard.

The upgrade capability, says Peter Stanforth, director of technology for Motorola's Mesh Networks Product Group, will give Motorola mesh customers -- which include more than a dozen municipalities since its launch in January 2005 -- peace of mind knowing that their networks will remain compatible with the final standard and at the cutting edge of wide-area WiFi networks. (See Mesh to the Bedside.)

"Today, going forward, our customers know that as they deploy these networks, they're going to be consistent and compatible with the [802.11s] standard," says Stanforth. "Previously, for customers trying to compare and understand what was what in terms of mesh networks was very difficult -- it wasn't apples-to-apples. Now as an industry, we have a common definition of a basic mesh network, what it does and how it does it."

News of the 802.11s upgrade comes the day after Motorola reported its first-quarter results, which showed continued strong growth in handset sales but declining sales by Motorola's network equipment business. Network equipment sales for the quarter were $1.43 billion, the company said, down 14 percent from a year ago. (See Moto Rides RAZR to Strong Q1.)

Motorola CEO Ed Zander attributed the drop to unexpectedly poor results in Asia. Some analysts have speculated that Motorola might be looking to either strengthen its networking arm through a merger or acquisition, or sell it off altogether.

The latter would be unwelcome news for enterprise customers like the city of Buffalo, Minn., a town of 13,500 about 35 miles west of Minneapolis that installed a Motorola municipal mesh network two years ago.

"We've been looking at how to use [the network] in the future," comments Merton Auger, Buffalo's city administrator. "One of the reasons we like the Motorola solution is that they're a company with a track record and they'll be around as these technologies continually evolve. We're confident they will continually improve the quality of the devices out there now."

Buffalo's mesh network hasn't received the publicity of big rollouts like the planned San Francisco network, to be built by a partnership between Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK), or the expansive Tempe, Ariz., project, but it's one of the most advanced municipal networks for a city of its size in the country. Comprising eight intelligent access points mounted on water towers and specially constructed poles around the city, plus 83 lightpole-mounted mobile wireless radios, the network covers an area of about 12 square miles, running over the 2.4GHz frequency band. The city spent a little over half a million dollars on the project, which serves tablet PCs in public utility vehicles and "vehicle-mounted modems" in police squad cars. The 802.11s upgrade, says Auger, will improve the overall utility of the system. (See Strix Advances Mesh Architecture.)

"It'll enhance the mesh system itself, and also increase the speed at which communications take place over the system," he explains. "Because it will allow handoffs [between radios] to occur at a faster pace, it will allows more bandwidth to come through, and thus more devices to speak over the network at one time."

While MeshConnex-based networks have been rolled out largely by municipalities to date, Stanforth believes they'll benefit enterprises as well in the near future.

"One thing we wanted to do is make sure that this standard is as flexible as possible," he remarks. "We're certain that the standard as it exists today will be widely beneficial in both the enterprise and the municipal markets."

"We've already had local businesses calling up to ask about the wireless network," adds Auger, "so I know there's people out there who will use it."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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