Carrier WiFi

Secrets of the Mesh

5:15 PM -- I had a nice chat yesterday with Chris Rittler, who heads up business development and product management at Tropos Networks Inc. I have to say up front that I think the world of Tropos; I’ve known them since they were FHP Wireless, and they’re the leader in deploying metro-scale WiFi mesh networks. I’ve used their products and, while I think we still disagree on the value of multiple-radio infrastructure nodes, their stuff works great.

They also have an outstanding management team (Chris is great; their marketing VP, Ellen Kirk, once beat me in an argument over Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)’s strategy, but I’d never admit that in public; Ron Sege is one of the best CEOs I’ve ever met; and Devabhaktuni "Sri" Srikrishna, their CTO, is an absolute blast to talk technology with) and arguably lead in the number of WiFi mesh systems deployed worldwide. Their success is certainly deserved.

Chris wanted to brief me on their recently-announced Tropos Metro Compatible Extensions (TMCX) specification, which specifies functionality for clients connecting to a metro-scale mesh. (See Tropos Unveils Metro WiFi Spec.) I think client functionality is a great idea; I’ve written on this before, with the conclusion that no one in their right mind would deploy a large-scale cellular network (like a metro-scale WiFi mesh) without some form of client functionality. Client-side software can be used to improve security, performance, manageability, and many other important elements of network operations. So, Tropos, great idea.

Unfortunately, I have no details on exactly what’s in the spec. Chris described it as more of a list of “best practices,” but I suspect there’s more to it than that. It’s available to those who manufacture client devices, but I’m unable to comment on it because I really don’t know what it really does. Really.

So, anyway, I suggested to Chris that he drop me a copy and allow me to write about it (i.e., no NDA in this case). And I will if he does. If he doesn’t want to make the spec public, then I suspect there will be significant competition and customer confusion as a result. Client-side functionality, in fact, really requires standardization, or at least a spec from a recognized trade association, like the Wi-Fi Alliance . This can’t be a part of metro-scale systems that is kept secret. Regardless, the ball is now rolling.

Stay tuned. I hope to hear back from Chris shortly.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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