Radio-Hopping Leaps Ahead

By Carol Ellison  |  Posted 2005-05-17 Print this article Print

Opinion: Motorola is out to change everything you thought you knew about wireless mesh networks.

Think of everything you thought you knew about wireless enterprise networking. Get ready to change your mind.
Thats what Motorola wants you to do.
And if this months rollout of the companys MEA (Mesh Enabled Architecture) is successful, you may do just that. MEA is Motorolas vision for rearchitecting wireless mesh, getting rid of towers and visible antennas, putting mobile desktops into the palms and pockets of traveling enterprise and government workers and electronically redefining how everyone else interacts with customer/citizen-facing networked services. In fact, if the company has its way, everything we thought we knew about wireless mesh networking—private or municipal, commercial or industrial, military or civilian—will change. And if you want a glimpse of the companys wireless world view, take a look at Buffalo, Minn. Thats the site of Motorolas first U.S. municipal mesh deployment, which went live just this month. Eclipsed by the high-profile municipal Wi-Fi roll-out in Philadelphia, Buffalo escaped notice for the most part in the popular press. Thats too bad, because MEA, the technology at work in Buffalo, deserves a close look. Click here to read more about how wireless mesh networks are catching on. MEA is Motorolas new mesh solution. Well, new for Motorola, that is. Motorola acquired it with its parent, the innovative Maitland, Fla., company that engineered it, Mesh Networks. A while back, Mesh Networks had this big but elegantly simple idea that a wireless mesh should be no different than its wired cousin—the Internet. "When youre doing broadband, the mesh architecture has really much been proven as the only scalable, low-latency and survivable way to do that," said Rick Rotondo, a Mesh Networks veteran whos now director of marketing in Motorolas mesh networking division. What MEA brings to the party is something known as radio-hopping. Think of a relay race where digital data packets are passed of instead of batons, and you get the idea. "People have been doing radio relay systems for decades, but those arent really intelligent," said Rotondo. "They dont actually do routing. Basically if something goes south, theyre not smart enough to heal or form new links. MEA takes mesh in all directions, turning every client device—and that includes handhelds, laptops, cell phones or whatever connected gadget you happen to be carrying—into an intelligent repeater, as well as a receiver. That means each device effectively becomes an access point, able to send the signals it receives on to other devices—and do so intelligently. Essentially the device senses other devices on the network that are closest to it, identifies the most efficient path between the sender and receiver of the information, and builds routing tables to enable communication between them. Sound familiar? It should. The principle is the same as what you find on the wired Internet. All the connected devices (in this case, the wirelessly connected devices) are programmed with intelligent algorithms to find the best way to get the data to its destination. And, in this scenario, that means hopping from one radio/repeater, ostensibly in a client, to another. Next Page: Navigating an end-to-end path.

Carol Ellison is editor of's Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has authored whitepapers on wireless computing (two on network security–,Securing Wi-Fi Wireless Networks with Today's Technologies, Wi-Fi Protected Access: Strong, Standards-based Interoperable Security for Today's Wi-Fi Networks, and Wi-Fi Public Access: Enabling the future with public wireless networks.

Ms. Ellison served in senior and executive editorial positions for Ziff Davis Media and CMP Media. As an executive editor at Ziff Davis Media, she launched the networking track of The IT Insider Series, a newsletter/conference/Web site offering targeted to chief information officers and corporate directors of information technology. As senior editor at CMP Media's VARBusiness, she launched the Web site, VARBusiness University, an online professional resource center for value-added resellers of information technology.

Ms. Ellison has chaired numerous industry panels and has been quoted as a networking and educational technology expert in The New York Times, Newsday, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio's All Things Considered, CNN Headline News, WNBC and CNN/FN, as well as local and regional Comcast and Cablevision reports. Her articles have appeared in most major hi-tech publications and numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.

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