Networking

3 Questions: About mesh networking

The military, which wanted wireless data networks to be formed on the fly, was responsible for the early genesis of mobile mesh. Read about where it is now.

With Scott Burke, vice president of engineering for PacketHop. There have beenseveral recent announcements concerning mesh networks, which are mobile or stationary wireless networks featuring interconnected endpoints and no central focal point. PacketHop made one of those announcements.

This interview originally appeared in the IT Business Edge weekly report on Empowering a Mobile Workforce. To see a complete listing of IT Business Edge weekly reports or sign up for this free technology intelligence agent, visit www.itbusinessedge.com.

Question: The idea of mesh networking isn't new, is it?

Burke: The concept of mesh networking goes further back than the name. The fixed Internet we have today can be thought of as a large fixed mesh network. Recent possibilities for growth [for mesh networking] came from Wi-Fi chips being deployed everywhere and the increase in device CPU capacity and [the resulting] increases in computational capabilities of PDAs and laptops. Those two factors combined to make it possible to have mobile mesh devices that are, in a sense, large mobile routers.

Question: You say that a lot of the early research was done at the Stanford Research Institute, which is now SRI. Who was asking for it?

Burke: The military. If you and I were soldiers going into the field, typically, we would only have voice communications. They wanted wireless data networks to be formed on the fly. That was the early genesis of mobile mesh. [PacketHop is] focused primarily on the network layer, kind of going back to the concept of a new routing protocol. Routing on the fixed Internet is very well designed for high-bandwidth uses but doesn't do very well if there is a lot of mobility. That's why SRI did a lot of research. There [also] is a standards effort at the IETF called MANET, for Mobile Ad Hoc Networking. They're trying to design a new routing protocol that works very well in highly mobile situations.

Question: Where will meshes thrive?

Burke: We really are looking closely at five key markets. The first is homeland security. That's a market that is happening right now. In the enterprise, we are looking at mobile [enterprise] as well as inside the enterprise. Home networking, home entertainment will come shortly, as UWB [ultra wideband] happens. The fourth market is consumer. [One element] is the notion that if you are near an AP and I'm far away, I can hop through you to get to the AP. It's called multi-hop networking. And gaming devices such as the Sony Playstation [will use] ad hoc mesh networks. The last market, which is slightly out ahead, is automotive. There is a lot of emphasis on consumer services in the car, but, more importantly, there are safety issues.
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