According to ABI Research, building on the strength and popularity of Wi-Fi, meshing networks extend range, security and redundancy by augmenting traditional infrastructure-to-user communications with enhanced peer-to-peer communications. This is accomplished through an advanced addressing scheme that better handles ad hoc communications and handoffs. Issues currently plaguing meshing networks include interference, proprietary addressing and security, and very high deployment costs. The use of the 4.9 GHz spectrum, recently reallocated by the FCC for “public safety” applications, can at least alleviate the issues of interference from existing Wi-Fi networks in the 2.4 and 5.8 GHz spectrum. Is the elimination of this obstacle alone enough to drive acceptance?
Because of peer-to-peer connectivity, meshing networks feature greater range and are capable of self-healing. The downside is that the greatly increased range of the network opens up the door for interference from other devices in the same bandwidth, plus the current need for proprietary addressing schemes within the mesh, given the absence of accepted standards. 4.9 GHz eliminates interference from existing networks, but does nothing to reduce the current proprietary state of technology nor alleviate the cost. So 4.9 GHz is not the complete answer.
In the short term, 4.9 GHz will actually serve to increase initial costs, as hardware needs to be modified or redesigned to operate in the band, as opposed to available off-the-shelf hardware that operates at 2.4 or 5.8 GHz. Moreover, 4.9 is only available for public safety to municipalities and law enforcement. It remains to be seen if private entities can benefit.
Where 4.9 GHz could actually help boost the market is within larger municipalities. Take the classic example of a large city. Meshing networks can operate over a landmass of tens of square miles. In an area such as Manhattan, a meshing network designed to cover the borough would be essentially worthless in a public bandwidth. There would be literally thousands of devices operating in the same spectrum. The interference issues would be staggering, let alone any potential security issues.
However, with 4.9 GHz hardware becoming available, the larger municipality may have an answer for medium range data connectivity. A brief examination of existing installations shows that most existing current users are smaller or more suburban municipalities, police departments, fire departments and other emergency response agencies. Now, the larger departments, with more area to cover and sometime larger budgets, could at least consider the technology. The appeal has certainly garnered the attention of many major wireless players. Nortel has been in this market for some time and Motorola recently licensed the technology from Mesh Networks, and may use it to augment its existing wireless broadband technology, Canopy. There are several other players also involved.
However, the long-term profitability of meshing networks may lie in their commercial viability. Enterprise-level installations may be more tolerant of operation in unlicensed bandwidth. Meshing networks could also get a boost from any sort of standardization of addressing protocols. This is another issue that is currently being dealt with. The IEEE is currently exploring the adoption of meshing standards as 802.11s, which could alleviate the disadvantages of the proprietary nature of existing meshing networks’ proprietary nature. Universal standards, especially if incorporated into consumer electronics level Wi-Fi for interoperability, would serve to diminish the effect of nearby networks and interference, but such a result is years away, if it ever materializes.