The ability to predict what is coming next is vital in blackjack, financial analysis, IT operations and corporate planning. At eWeek, Mike Elgan does a great job of divining the direction in which Google and, by extension, the rest of us, seems to be heading.
As with many things, from advanced physics to literature to technology, what Elgan is suggesting is based on combining something old and something new. The new element is the Internet of Things (IoT) and two categories that make it possible: wearable computing and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.
The older technology is mesh networking. The technique is exactly what the name implies: Think of a mesh of a screen door. Each strand touches those around it. In a mesh network, each node or endpoint also touches its neighbor. Each not only receives data, but sends it to its neighboring node or endpoint. Thus, a self-healing and highly fluid approach replaces the strictly hierarchal approach of traditional networks.
Korenix, a Taiwanese vendor, offers two valuable things in a press release announcing the use of mesh technology in its JetWave 2800 products: A diagram of what a mesh network looks like and an accessible definition. Mesh networks, according to the release, “enable low-latency, modularity, self-healing, self-optimizing, reliable, large-scale wireless networks solutions in a variety of industrial applications.” Mesh goes beyond industrial applications, but the remainder of the definition is useful.
Elgan points out that Google Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai invoked the promise of mesh twice in his on-stage interview at the SXSW film and technology festival in Austin. He also suggested that the marriage of mesh and IoT-related techniques may not be new for the company:
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen hints of Google’s intention to explore mesh networking in home automation applications. A little over a year ago, Google released the 4.2.2 update to Android. Sharp-eyed sleuths noticed a telling comment in the code: “Allows access to the loop radio (Android@Home mesh network) device.”
Google is far from the first to make the connection between M2M, IoT and mesh. At electronic design, Lou Frenzel provided an informative piece on IoT and M2M, and made the tie in:
When multiple sensors must be monitored, wireless technologies like ZigBee are a good choice as they offer the mesh network topology that allows hundreds or even thousands of nodes to be monitored or controlled. Building automation is one area. So are home-area networks (HANs) where the utility’s smart electric meter can provide energy consumption data wirelessly. In industrial settings, other wireless mesh networks may make more sense, like Linear Technologies Dust Networks’ WirelessHART and ISA 100a. Z-Wave is also an option in some consumer applications.
Silver Spring Networks has been in the mesh news lately as well. Last month, the company signed an agreement with Florida Power & Light to employ a mesh network to power 75,000 street lights in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The company also used its website to laud an effort by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrators (CEPT) to convince governments to set aside spectrum for Metropolitan and Rural Area Networks (MRANs), which use mesh and M2M techniques, according to the release.
The bottom line is that Google appears to be planning a world that is one big network. It is not the only company doing so, but it appears to be methodically working on several levels at once. Driverless cars, robots and other sci-fi elements get the most attention. Mesh, the IoT and M2M essentially are the middleware layer between the users and the devices that are serving them, at least for now.