Saturday, August 13, 2005

Mesh Networks

From MIT's Technology Review. Mesh Networking Matters
[Mesh network proponents] believe that mesh networks will overthrow traditional networking and communications and create entirely new kinds of distributed software. For the purposes of this column, mesh networks (sometimes called mobile ad hoc networks, or MANETs) are local-area networks whose nodes communicate directly with each other through wireless connections. It is the lack of a hub-and-spoke structure that distinguishes a mesh network. Meshes do not need designated routers: instead, nodes serve as routers for each other. Thus, data packets are forwarded from node to node in a process that network technologists term 'hopping.' …

Meshes lack standards, too: low-bit-rate mesh networking has a standard called ZigBee that is supported by around 100 companies, including Motorola, Mitsubishi, Phillips, and Samsung, but high-bit-rate communications have no such standard (although the 802.11 committee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers hopes to create one by next May).

What does all this mean? A few, early applications of mesh networks are already emerging. Meshes will allow municipalities to create cheap or free urban Wi-Fi networks (we will be writing about Philadelphia's effort in our November issue). Meshes have obvious advantages for military and security personnel who want networks that are unbreakable and "horizontal" (see "Instant Networks," June 2005).

Environmental scientists like meshes because they can provide continuous data from large geographical areas over many years (see "Casting the Wireless Sensor Net," July/August 2003). But the most important application of meshes will be in what technologists once called "pervasive computing": embedding sensors and processors in things like clothes, electronics, and buildings and connecting them into smart networks.

Mesh networks will be big business. There are billions of networked devices and embedded processors in the world; many more will be built. The best way to connect all of them will be through mesh networks. But the most disruptive business impact of meshes will be this: telecommunications companies do not own them. Meshes profoundly diminish the organizations that own and manage communications backbones.
See earlier post about internet access.

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