PacketHop, Zensys Make Mesh Networking Advances

 
 
By Mark Hachman  |  Posted 2003-11-10
 
 
 

A pair of mesh networking companies will take the stage Monday, promising to improve wireless connectivity by shunting wireless connections through multiple access points.

PacketHop Inc. will announce that it has spun off from parent and noted incubator SRI International; in an unrelated announcement, Zensys A/S will disclose a business relationship with Intel Corp. to wire a mesh network into home appliances.

Traditional 802.11 wireless networking links a client to an access point in a direct connection. Wireless providers are working to allow 802.11 users to roam from one access point to another, such as with cellular handsets. In cases where the signal from the client to the access point is blocked, however, a wireless user is often stuck.

Mesh networking, on the other hand, dynamically routes wireless signals in a weblike mesh. Individual devices, which make up the webs wireless weft, automatically calculate their position and dynamically reroute signals to maintain the best connection. Intel has been a public proponent of the technology, showing off early research at its Intel Developer Forum each of the past two years.

Coincidentally, PacketHop has targeted a WAN-like approach to mesh networking, while Zensys has chosen more of a LAN-type focus.

PacketHop aims to allow users of 802.11 technology, as well as other radio-based communications, to bounce signals from a number of different points, such as cars, PDAs and other sites. The technology was originally tested and proven at a $50 million R&D trial at SRI, including the "Urban Warrior" connected-soldier initiative by the U.S. military, according to one of the companys founders. Now, the technology will be commercialized by the spinoff.

"Were talking broadband connectivity any time, anywhere for many devices across any number of markets," said Michael Howse, CEO, president and co-founder of PacketHop, and formerly a senior vice president at graphics chip maker 3DFX, later acquired by Nvidia Corp. "We believe this capability has a lot of value."

PacketHop wont manufacture wireless components. Instead, the firm is developing a 500KB embedded software stack that it will license to embedded device makers. The devices themselves will develop their own stand-alone network, centrally monitored and partially controlled by a PacketHop management tool or server, which will be used to integrate multiple meshes and provide centralized network services. Both the client software and centralized tool will launch in the first quarter, Howse said.

PacketHop will be funded by the companys founders, as well as U.S. Venture Partners, the Mayfield Fund and SRI.

Meanwhile, Zensys said it signed an agreement with Intel to develop a universal platform for universal home control. The deal grants Intel warrants to invest in Zensys at a future time if it so chooses.

Zensys network bridges the gap between home wireless and automated control, using a 908.42GHz RF frequency to squirt 9.6K bps of data throughout the home. Zensys designs ASICs for manufacturers of products like thermostats, burglar alarms and other devices, then networks all of the devices together using an embedded software stack running the companys Z-Wave mesh networking technology. PDAs and other more traditional computing devices can also sit on the network. Zensys work with Intel is designed to help embed Universal Plug and Play drivers into Z-Wave devices, as well as help to extend Universal Plug and Play to other embedded devices that lack TCP/IP stacks.

Osram Sylvania, a lighting manufacturer, has already agreed to build the technology into some of its lighting systems, according to Frank Homann, founder and executive vice president of Zensys. The company will host an interoperability seminar in Long Beach, Calif., on Nov. 12 with 20 OEMs, he said.

"This is the first reliable technology—it works," Homann said. "Secondly, it is the right price point." ASICs with the Z-Wave technology embedded inside cost $5; second-generation chips, due to enter production in 2005, will be priced at about $1 in volume, he said.

(Editors Note: This story has been updated since its original posting for clarification.)

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