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Muni Mesh Mash Up

Firetide Inc. and Meru Networks Inc., Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), PacketHop, and Proxim Corp. have all announced new wireless mesh networking products or deployments this week.

This flurry of activity exposes something about this emerging market: For all the noise and hype there's no clear, cohesive strategy for vendors in the mesh space yet, whether they are working on municipal networks for public safety applications or providing the citizens of a town or city with cheap -- or free -- wireless access.

The basic concept of wireless mesh networking is a system that uses a series of gateways, or nodes, that pass data and share bandwidth among them rather than sending and receiving data from a central point. Mesh networking may be considered a team sport, with players passing the data “ball” up and down the field -- as opposed to the golf-like cable model, where a solitary player has to hit the ball into many different holes. Boosters say that this kind of network can be cheaper to run and more flexible than fixed alternatives.

Established vendors are trying to build on their existing public safety network legacy and contracts using wireless LAN and related technologies. The startups are looking to grab an initial foothold in the marketplace by offering applications like VOIP over WLAN mesh networking and "instant" ad-hoc public safety networking between handhelds and laptops.

Public safety maven Motorola has scored a $2 million deal to provide a public safety network in Providence, RI. Motorola is using the properitary 2.4GHz radio system it acquired when it bought Mesh Networks last year for the deployment, rather than its newer dual-radio 4.9GHz product line (see Moto Gets Mesh and Moto Moves on Mesh).

Proxim, which was recently acquired by Terabeam Wireless (Nasdaq: YDIW), will follow Motorola down the 4.9Ghz path, with the announcement of a dual 2.4GHz and 4.9GHz metro mesh system. The 4.9GHz band is solely dedicated to public safety applications and has recently been opened up for mesh networking applications (see FCC Opens Safety Floodgates).

While more established players look to build on their public safety, newer vendors are plotting fresh applications for public metro mesh networks.

For instance, startups Firetide and Meru have teamed up to offer VOIP over mesh networks for metropolitan meshes, rural deployments, and smaller WISPs.

"We have been working with Firetide on several metro WiFi deals," says Ben Gibson, VP of marketing at Meru. "We've seen the emergence of a new breed of service provider that delivers competitive broadband wireless service for both residential and community use, often in more rural areas."

The system uses Firetide's routing nodes for backhaul and Meru's software and access points for the VOIP applications. Barbara Cardillo, Firetide's VP of corporate marketing says that the system's latency is "less than 2 milliseconds over 3 [node] hops." "This works very well for voice," she adds.

"The combination is ideal both for the rural applications... as well as true metro deployments, like the Philadelphia metro project, and the recently announced initiative in San Francisco to provide WiFi for the city," opines Meru's Gibson.

Startup PacketHop has always been different from its pure metro mesh rivals. Instead of using a layout of 802.11-based mesh router boxes to wirelessly transfer data over much greater areas than standard 802.11 networks, PacketHop has developed software for WiFi clients that allows the devices themselves to act as nodes in an ad-hoc mesh network (see PacketHop Gets $10M).

The company has a new software update that intensifies its increasing focus on public safety applications. The update adds voice and video capabilities that the firm says emergency services could use at the site of an incident. The point of using its software to form an ad-hoc network, says PacketHop, is that first responders wouldn't be beholden to an existing, fixed network that may get overloaded in an emergency.

Of course all these merry mesh-keteers don't merely face competition from their direct rivals. Vendors offering WiMax -- and so-called "pre-WiMax" -- technology are also competing for public safety and municipal projects. Witness the recent announcement of the installation of a "pre-WiMax" public safety testbed in New York City.

And it's not 100 percent clear yet if Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) will be a major player in this market following its $600 million acquisition of Flarion Technologies (see Qualcomm Calls on Flarion). But that's certainly one of the applications that Flarion's technology could be used for.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

joset01 12/5/2012 | 3:04:41 AM
re: Muni Mesh Mash Up Curious to get reader feedback, which do you see as more suitable for these applications?

Mesh WiFi or WiMax.

Thanks

Dan Jones
free_radio 12/5/2012 | 3:04:39 AM
re: Muni Mesh Mash Up I vote for WiMax since it's an easier and better model to build upon instead of using distributed Mesh architecture. Plus Intel has promised to include WiMax chipsets in addition to WiFi chipsets on their platforms. Mesh WiFi is just a niche application and i'm not saying they have worse technology -- it's just if you compared side by side, WiMax is more scalable. Why do you want to build a routing capability (which is processor-intensive) on each node if you're using Mesh model? Just give the heavy duty tasks to the router or base access point as of the current model of WiFi and Cellular network deployment.

It's just not cost-efficient and worth that much, in my own opinion.
joset01 12/5/2012 | 3:04:32 AM
re: Muni Mesh Mash Up See, the one big adavantage for WiFi mesh networking I see in this environment is that it works with readily available technology. WiFi is standard in laptops these days and moving into handhelds and phones.

I question how long it will take WiMax to make the move into laptops. I know Intel says it will combine the two technologies in 06/07, but it took them a while to move into the 802.11 chipset market. There's also questions about how optimized the WiMax chipsets are for use in laptops and other battery-powered devices.

Remember it took the WiFi players a couple of years to really start to optimize their chipsets for good battery life on laptops, and they are only just starting to be incorporated in phones.

WiFi is abundant, cheap, and here now, and that's why mesh really still has a shot.

DJ

free_radio 12/5/2012 | 3:04:29 AM
re: Muni Mesh Mash Up I believe Mesh has a separate standard, completely different than WiFi ... just like the WiMax standard. So I'm not sure if Mesh can piggyback on the success of WiFi. In my view, Mesh is good but it will never reach the level of scalability that WiFi Infrastructure or WiMax models -- the reason is because of the basic architecture. If Mesh would like to be scalable, I'm pretty sure they will have to update the standard spec and include some sort of gateway/router controllers which means we're going back to the Access Point model framework again.

Also I believe at IBSS WiFi spec, the power management issue of ad-hoc networks is way more complicated than Access Point model so i'm sure it'll be either comparable to WiMax or maybe even worse in terms of power consumption.
lrmobile_boondocksbandit 12/5/2012 | 3:04:28 AM
re: Muni Mesh Mash Up Forgot to add: mesh Wifi will be a slam dunk for public safety, where it is not unlicensed spectrum.
lrmobile_boondocksbandit 12/5/2012 | 3:04:28 AM
re: Muni Mesh Mash Up I've worked on both, so here is an attempt at an impartial look:
Mesh WiFi has the advantage of client ubiquity and is speculated as being cheaper in a commercial service provider deployment(we don't know yet, Jupiter research claims $150K per mile which ain't cheap...same as a 3G cell site, as per Unstrung). It will definitely be cheaper per bit.
However, the downside is unlicensed spectrum. My WiFi client sees a lot of Access points usually in a suburban area; how will the people deploying mesh WiFi deal with interference? How about QoS? Enterprises are finding it hard to do proper voice over WiFi in the controlled corporate environment, how can mesh providers do anything like that in urban environments where everyone has stuck up their own access points and are interfering with each other in a WiFi junk yard?
If someone designs a WiFi version in licensed spectrum, it loses the advantage of client ubiquity...
WiMAX is designed with QoS features and works in the licensed spectrum; however the licensed spectrum issues (several options available etc), whether there would be enough service providers that dont have 3G and/or are interested in WiMAX etc are obvious issues. Battery power was designed in right off the bat on 802.16E (Mobile WiMAX), whereas it was an afterthought in 802.11.
It is hard to say which will win. I suspect you will see both, with WiMAX being preferred by large service providers and mesh being used by communities/municipalities and small ISPs..

free_radio 12/5/2012 | 3:04:24 AM
re: Muni Mesh Mash Up To draw the analogy, I see Mesh Networks just like the Ricochet networks that was famous at one point but it's closing down because it's unable to scale up quickly because of the basic model architecture.

WiMax is designed from the ground-up with better understanding and it's one of the best candidate to challenge CDMA also -- in fact, it's better than CDMA so much that Qualcomm is buying Flarion as the pre-emptive move. Qualcomm is one of the best core technology company in the world and to know that QCOM acknowledge the WiMax threats means WiMax is here to stay.

I can not say the same thing about the Mesh Networks unfortunately just by looking at the analogy of Ricochet.
joset01 12/5/2012 | 3:04:19 AM
re: Muni Mesh Mash Up RE: WiMax's threat to Qualcomm

Which leads to another interesting point. Do you think that Qualcomm's Flarion buyout will force the WiMax people to speed up work on the mobile spec? Can they afford to wait til 2007/08 to get this stuff to the public with a rival technology already in the marketplace?

DJ
lrmobile_boondocksbandit 12/5/2012 | 3:04:19 AM
re: Muni Mesh Mash Up Yes, Qualcomm's Flarion buyout will definitely push the WiMAX folks to speed things up on the standardization side (already there is a sense of urgency). Look for "CDMA versus GSM" like wars all over again, this time with proprietary Flash-OFDM versus standard 802.16E. Mobile WiMAX may happen late in the US markets, like you point out, but don't ignore the Korea WiBro deployment scheduled to happen in 2006, which is WiMAX plus a few Korean tweaks. I would imagine the aggressive Korean companies like Samsung will be big players in this space.
kasius 12/5/2012 | 3:04:12 AM
re: Muni Mesh Mash Up Hi,

My thought is that they will coexist for some time.

As WLAN evolves to 11n/e/i/r with speed greater than 100Mbps, most quipment (PDA, handphone, notePC, MP3 player, etc) will have WLAN connectivity anyway as your home and office have WLAN, which means hotspots will stay long, maybe expand to hotzones with mesh technology. WiMAX or Wibro will provide a ubiquitous connectivity to some devices but with lower speeds.
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