Mesh Making Wi-Fi a More Robust Enterprise Technology


Wireless enterprise communications offers several great, interrelated promises. The first is that wireless inherently is cheaper than its wired alternatives. Secondly, coverage generally is greater. It is far easier to offer service in stairwells, cafeterias and other non-office areas using airborne radio waves. Thirdly, wireless far more easily covers new hires' or visitors' work areas, or even packs to set up at a trade show.


A new approach to mesh is gaining adherents. Mesh networking is a high flexibility, high reliability approach in which access points (APs) serve end users and send signals to other access points. This requires that fewer APs be hard wired, enables signals to be routed more efficiently, and keeps the system up even if one potential signal path goes down. This InformationWeek piece looks at the benefits and challenges of enterprise mesh. The writer says that Aruba Networks, Cisco, Meru Networks and Trapeze Networks use a structured approach, while Motorola and Aerohive Networks offer dynamic services. He briefly describes the difference.


Mesh networking can be used for a variety of purposes. For instance, late last month, Firetide Networks announced that it is working with the KT Corp and system integrator LANS Co. Ltd. to network sensor devices operated by the Korea Meteorological Administration on Jeju Island. The sensors are part of a weather monitoring system on the island, which is a popular tourist destination off the nation's coast.


Another unique use of mesh networking was unveiled last week. L-3 Communications said that its ACCOLADE wireless mesh mine communications has received final approval from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for inclusion use in state- and federally approved mine safety plans. The approach was developed by the company's Global Security & Engineering Solutions division. The release says the system is the only one approved by MSHA that combines voice, data and tracking in a single system. The technology was given the okay by West Virginia in September.


When considering the relevance of a growing technology, it is vital to see where it fits into the bigger picture. The basic news in this release is that AeroScout is working with the Air Force to combine GPS with Wi-Fi and other technologies to track and manage assets at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). AMARG operates in a mammoth 110 million-square foot, 2,600 acre outdoor facility at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. The system, which will start by using 1,000 AeroScout GPS Wi-Fi tags, is designed to tap into multiple data sources and technologies in a single Wi-Fi-based system, the release says. The system, aimed at precision tracking of essential support equipment, will provide automated inventory reports for staff.


Ephraim Schwartz at InfoWorld sees a bigger picture-and perhaps one that is a bit more dramatic than tracking computer gear. He suggests that the combination of mesh, GPS, Wi-Fi and high gain antennas could do no less than change society. It will essentially be impossible to effectively steal something or kidnap somebody, since embedded chips and the great power of high gain antennas and mesh-which, he says, will come down in price as the technology becomes more ubiquitous-will make it impossible to hide. This already is going on: Schwartz says that 160 members of an elite crime fighting group in Mexico have chips in their arms to allow access to a data crime center, and that some Alzheimer's patients also have chips emplanted in their arms so that alarm bells ring if they run off.


It is unclear what role mesh networking will play in the future as the futuristic-sounding examples presented by Schwartz become more common. The bottom line, however, is that it is one of an increasing number of wireless technologies that can work in concert to greatly enhance their effectiveness. By working together, these technologies could realize their proponents' dreams and overpower the wired networks.