Intels Just Playing Catch-Up with Mesh Networking Plan

Opinion: Intel may be getting a lot of publicity for its wireless mesh network "initiative," but-surprise!-there is already an open mesh standard.

It really isnt the case that some people will print anything Intel tells them. Im sure of it. It cant be true.

It is the case, however, that Intel did get a lot of free publicity for its "initiative" on wireless mesh networks last week.

If we are to believe Intel and its representative on the new IEEEE 802.11s committee, W. Steven Connor (he looks like a nice guy, so why not?), "At present, there are no standards for this."

It sounds pretty watertight. A recent report from the Intel Developer Forum described mesh networks as "self-configuring systems" where each node relays messages to increase range and bandwidth. It quoted Conner, a wireless network architect at Intel and technical editor of the IEEEs 802.11s task group, authoritatively saying that there are no standards for this.

His colleague supported him. "Roxanne Gryder, marketing development manager in Intels Communications Technology group, said existing mesh-networking protocols are all proprietary," reported Electronics Weekly.

"Intel wants a standard to help it address markets such as home and office networking, and for public safety applications," the report said.

Well! Jolly good for Intel, and we can all rest easier in our beds.

But isnt there just a teeny problem with this?

Well, I hate to be rude when everybody else is cheering, but I know a mesh network. It is based on a widely accepted open standard called the AODV, or Ad hoc On-demand Distance Vector protocol.

Its based on open-source code written for Linux and using open-source drivers. It uses IEEE 802.11a/b/g standard hardware. Its not, in short, even slightly proprietary. Engineer Jon Anderson, who created this mesh, was asked, "Why wont Intel use your stuff, then?"

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about Linux-powered mesh networks.

He replied: "Well, if my stuff is just an ADOV implementation, then they already have that as a standard. On the other hand, if they want to modify it for operational reasons, they need to do what Ive already done. That is, a massive amount of testing and research in the real world."

It gets weird when you get into the details.

Intels proposed IEEE standard will mesh 20 to 25 nodes. They will be "largely static," and one day, Intel says, the company may introduce the concept of "mesh portals," devices that can link complete mesh networks to each other.

When? "We may have pre-11s standard versions by 2006," Intel said.

By contrast, Andersons LocustWorld mesh is already two years old. It will link not just 20 but 50 or 100 mesh nodes, and they can be moving.

Each one can be moving, but usually just one or two are, as in a recent data-collection test that had one node in a microlite plane and several ground stations all linked to it simultaneously as it flew over. And it does clustering–which is everything the portal might one day be–already.

Its certainly true that there are dozens and dozens of charlatans out there selling mesh networking to venture capitalists. I have interviews with some of these guys; people who have yet to ship a single working network, who nonetheless are quoted as authorities on the subject of how much data you can ship across a mesh network.

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