Wireless Mesh Networking

By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2003-02-21 Print this article Print

We also attended a highly intriguing session on wireless mesh networking, presented by Steve Conner, a senior network software engineer from Intel. Conner related a personal experience, in which his own home wireless networking has dead zones within a single room, where his wireless internet connection loses connection. All of us who have used Wi-Fi networks have experienced these types of dropouts. The potential sources of interference are substantial.
One potential solution is the mesh network. Instead of a central access point, which can act as a bottleneck, Conner postulates an environment where all of the networking connections (including those in the clients, such as a PC or handheld computer) can act as routers. One concept shown were tiny "micro-routers" the size of a nightlight that could easily be plugged into household power outlets and left in place. Each node in the mesh network only has to talk to the closest adjacent nodes; routing protocols decide the best route through the network to deliver data.
The advantages of this approach are varied:
  • More reliable connections, and hence, reliable behavior in the network.
  • Lower power utilization -- the clients dont have to radiate large amounts of energy to reach the access point, and vice-versa.
  • Potential interference happens on a more local scale, and the mesh can re-route around it, offering greater redundancy. However, there are still key problems to be addressed. One issue is security. If you have a mesh network, and so does your neighbor, then the potential exists for either snooping into private data or simply hogging the available bandwidth of a neighboring, but alien, node. Existing 802.11 products can actually be leveraged to create mesh networks at the MAC level, but you cant simply use standard Ethernet protocols. You have to use better routing algorithms. Also, the problem of QoS (quality of service) once again rears its head. After all, if youre blasting a video image from home theater system to your laptop PC, the last thing you want is dropouts in video or audio data. In the end, wireless mesh networks could solve a number of problems that extend beyond simply eliminating dead zones in your home. For example, one key problem has been getting broadband access from the big backbones to homes that can use it -- the "last mile" problem. If one home can connect to the backbone, a wireless mesh could extend access to the entire neighborhood. Another scenario is the corporate environment, where a mesh network could extend the reach of a wired network, without needing additional access points that have to tie into the wired infrastructure. ExtremeTechs latest IDF Coverage

    Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

    In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

    Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.

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