Why is mesh networking an appealing alternative to today's WLAN architectures? It offers a robustness that you
can't get with traditional networking. It offers the ability to cover distances that you couldn't cover with a traditional WLAN. It allows you to route data around obstacles, and that is very important for public safety organizations. It does not require a line-of-sight to connect. And it usually allows devices to fail over to 2.5G or 3G networks.
What are the drawbacks?
The mesh network requires a lot of access points, so deploying in a mesh architecture can be expensive. The other question is scalability. In a very large network there would be so much routing information moving from access point to access point, it would be unclear how much these networks can scale and maintain their bandwidth for users. Are there security concerns with using a device as a router?
They use a proprietary algorithm for encryption, so the security issues have been largely worked out. What about reliability?
The access points are always on, so it is always there to forward information. The networks are reliable. The real issues are cost, scalability and vendor viability. These systems are all offered by small companies. Should that be a concern?
The vendors are all very small. I think there will be [vendor] consolidation. Unless these companies can get out of the narrow vertical of public safety, they will never be able to grow. But we are starting to see traditional WLAN vendors begin to offer them. Nortel Networks, for example, has a product that it has at least labeled a mesh network. As major vendors begin to offer this technology, we will see even more consolidation in the market.
Mesh networks are not using a standard. Should businesses be concerned about that?
There are special circumstances for certain verticals that require action right away. And they can justify the cost. Everyone else can wait. It is the same thing with the switched WLAN. In general, 802.11 has grown faster in verticals like manufacturing, warehousing and health care. They can cost-justify the technology easily. The growth in the horizontal market, where it is harder to justify the cost, has been slow. The same is true with this technology. It will follow the same road map, will start out in the verticals and will take a long time to gain traction in other verticals and horizontal applications. Is mesh networking an exclusive technology, or can it be incorporated with a traditional WLAN architecture?
Right now, they would not work well together because there is no way to manage a mesh network and a traditional network as one unit. Because of the way it is designed, you have to have a gateway between them. A mesh network is not pure 802.11, so it does not integrate well. What kinds of organizations might consider mesh networks?
Public safety organizations, fire and police departments and municipalities that want to set up a citywide network. Not too many other verticals have jumped at it yet.