Mesh Networks Making Inroads

LocustWorld exec talks up the advantages of mesh as a wireless network.

While the buzz at Computex 2004 was around wireless networking and VOIP, mesh networking found its way into the spotlight last week at VIA Technology Forum in Taipei.

In fact, it was the topic of a session by Richard Lander, director of LocustWorld, a mesh networking solutions provider for broadband Internet.

Mesh networks are ad hoc wireless networks made up of special nodes that automatically communicate with each other to create a single, scalable wireless network. A node can send and receive data, while also serving as a router to relay information to any other node within its area of coverage. A mesh network is intelligent and self-organizing, automatically adjusting and updating the most efficient routing patterns through the network, as nodes or Internet gateways are added or removed.

Lander said that although mesh networks have been around for years, they have seen only limited adoption due to the rigid structure of traditional wireless broadband networks, which have huge investment costs for equipment, services and wireless technology.

LocustWorlds recent success, according to Lander, is due to its ability to keep overheads low, leverage open-source solutions, and get their products to market quickly by using standard license-free 802.11b/g wireless protocols and off-the-shelf PC motherboards.

Since 802.11 implementations are line-of-sight technology, the operational range can be quite limited. The LocustWorld strategy for overcoming this limitation is to add more nodes, passing the data in multiple low-power hops. If an obstruction or interference arises, the data is detoured around it.

With low-cost, reliable nodes, its possible to deploy to multiple locations. LocustWorld uses the VIA Technologies EPIA V5000 platform as the building block for its network nodes. The fanless EPIA V5000 is an integrated off-the-shelf PC motherboard providing a low-power embedded solution with no moving parts that is easy to maintain, according to Tim Handley, VIAs marketing manager for CPU platforms.

VIA and LocustWorld spoke about how they are working together on LocustWorlds next generation of mesh routers, based on VIAs 12x12cm Nano-ITX form factor. The boards will begin shipping at the end of the year.

LocustWorld also recently introduced VOIP (voice over IP) to its mesh network offerings. The wireless mesh provides global voice communications to callers worldwide over existing wireless networks running the LocustWorld system. By upgrading the mesh to support SIP, any wireless mesh network can be voice-enabled, according to company officials.

Voice traffic gets top priority on the mesh, so the quality of the call is not affected by demand from data users, according to Lander. With a VOIP-enabled mesh, customers can receive and make calls, reaching the PSTN (public switched telephone network) worldwide for the price of a local call, and connect to other Internet voice users for the price of the broadband connection.

However, Lander believes VOIP is likely to have mesh operators planning their bandwidth consumption more carefully. Although each VOIP call uses relatively little bandwidth, it needs to be dedicated and so bandwidth issues arise as more users access the service. LocustWorld provides a detailed traffic management and tracking system that provides management information to the service provider, helping it better monitor the networks bandwidth patterns. By identifying where bottlenecks occur, the management system allows the service provider to better distribute service nodes.


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