A wireless mesh network (WMN) is a mesh network created through the connection of wireless access points installed at each network user's locale. Each network user is also a provider, forwarding data to the next node. The networking infrastructure is decentralized and simplified because each node need only transmit as far as the next node. Wireless mesh networking could allow people living in remote areas and small businesses operating in rural neighborhoods to connect their networks together for affordable Internet connections.
According to networking expert John Shepler, in the near future the Wi-Fi card in your laptop might become an access point in addition to its normal role as network client. In a full mesh topology, every node communicates with every other node, not just back and forth to a central router. In another variation, called a partial mesh network, nodes communicate with all nearby nodes, but not distant nodes. All communications are between the clients and the access point servers. The client/server relationship is the basis for this technology.
In Redmond, Cambridge and Silicon Valley, Microsoft is working on what it calls "self-organizing neighborhood wireless mesh networks." The network is created with a Mesh Connectivity Layer (MCL), which is a loadable Microsoft Windows driver that lets users communicate over a wireless mesh network using Wi-Fi or WiMax services. The driver tricks the computer into thinking it's directly connected to an Internet connection. The software creates a virtual network adapter that the computer interprets as a regular network connection and uses an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) protocol called Link Quality Source Routing (LQSR) to route data among computers in the neighborhood.
Reported potential advantages of wireless mesh networks include:
- Decreased need for Internet gateways.
- Collaborative redundant backup technology, which insures data security in the event of disk failure.
- The ability to configure routes dynamically.
- Lower power requirements, which could potentially be met by low-cost or renewable energy sources.
- Increased reliability: Each node is connected to several other nodes and if one drops out of the network, its neighbors simply find another route.
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- Microsoft Research offers more information about "Self-Organizing Neighborhood Wireless Mesh Networks."