Wireless Mesh Test Gets Underway

Industry's first competitive trials proceeding with three mesh leaders

February 14, 2006

3 Min Read
Wireless Mesh Test Gets Underway

In the first comprehensive test of wireless mesh networking gear, sponsored by Light Reading and carried out by testing firm Iometrix Inc. , three of the leading companies in the municipal mesh networking industry are having their gear put through the paces at a specially constructed test bed in South San Francisco. (See Wireless Mesh Gets a Test.)

The 802.11 Wireless Mesh Infrastructure Test will measure six areas: node client-capacity; multi-hop throughput performance; fail-over and smooth roaming performance; call capacity and voice transmission quality; security performance; and multi-BSSID (Basic Service Set Identifier) isolation and security. Throughput performance -- the consistent speeds attained over the shared medium of a wireless network -- is a critical measure, because mesh nodes must not only forward traffic to and from end users, but also backhaul traffic between nodes.

So far three wireless networking companies are participating in the trials: Firetide Inc. , Strix Systems Inc. , and BelAir Networks Inc.

The test, says Iometrix president Bob Mandeville, will not only establish baselines for the emerging wireless mesh industry; it will also formulate testing methods for such networks.

"Mesh testing is new," explains Mandeville, "so there's not an established methodology for testing these types of networks. Rather than testing a single access point, as with 802.11 in the enterprise environment, here you have a matrix of mesh nodes that can be configured in different ways, using different topologies."

To produce completely reliable and replicable results, Iometrix has built what it calls the Azimuth Test Bed, which is completely shielded from radio-frequency signals to ensure that the wireless networks are tested under pristine conditions. The results and analysis of the trials will be published on Light Reading and on Unstrung following the completion of the testing.

"Because this market is so new, it is great to have things like a competitive test," says Strix Systems vice president of marketing Nan Chen. "These tests will generate more market awareness. Just like in the early days of Ethernet, public testing can really generate market momentum as well as potential interoperability of different systems."

"This test will be good for the wireless mesh industry, because there's still a lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding out there about mesh networks," says Steve Rayment, CTO of BelAir Networks. "It's early days yet for this industry, and people don’t really understand yet what matters for these networks and what doesn't."

Also of note are the companies that haven't chosen to participate. Established wireless networking companies Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) are not being tested at this time; nor are a handful of startups. Cisco did not respond to invitations to have its gear tested, nor did the networking giant comment on the test; Motorola, after receiving a test plan from Iometrix for review, said it was unlikely to participate and did not respond to further inquiries. Startup Tropos Networks Inc. met with Mandeville but likewise did not respond to subsequent inquiries about the test, or to requests for comments on the test.

"I'm surprised in a way that Tropos, for instance, is not involved," Rayment says. "I guess sometimes silence speaks volumes, in terms of the performance they expect to achieve."

It's not too late to be involved, though: All wireless networking firms are encouraged to submit their products to Iometrix for testing, and additional participants are welcome up until Feb. 24. If you would like to apply to include your system in the testing, please contact Iometrix directly at [email protected].

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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