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.
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.
Navigating an End
Its similar to a navigation system in your car that changes your route dynamically as you drive.
As Rick Rotondo, director of marketing for Motorolas mesh networking division, explains it: “The system is always looking at its neighbors and its end-to-end path.”
He points out that conditions change in the radio world on a packet-by-packet basis.
“What you care about is the quality of your link to the person youre communicating with. They literally could be standing next to you, but if theres a lead wall between you, youd have no signal.”
Because MEA finds the most efficient path, packets do not have to be resent to get through, resulting in higher data rates and better quality of service.
Rotondo likens it to a bucket brigade where signals are passed from device to device to their destination.
Buffalo is not the first deployment of the technology, just the first under Motorolas flag.
Before acquisition, Mesh Networks deployed a 26-square mile network in Medford, Ore., a 60-square-mile network in Garland, Texas, and a mesh between the Kennedy Space Center and Patrick Air Force Base in Coco Beach, Fla.
“That one was interesting,” said Rotondo, “because Coco Beach only has 30,000 population year-round and 1.2 million visitors each year. So all of the infrastructure really had to be built to handle a far larger population than actually resides there.”
Whats more interesting than the technology itself is the kind of applications it handles.
In Coco Beach, it enables public employees to have a mobile desktop, connecting back to the citys server remotely and eliminating the downtime that happens when they have to return to the office to file reports, check mail and pick up work orders.
Portsmouth, England, deployed the technology across its public transportation system, wirelessly connecting its 308 buses to 35 intelligent bus stops, where passengers can see where buses are on the router, whether theyre running on time, receive service messages and pay fares electronically in advance of the buss arrival.
The devices, with the technology embedded within it, effectively become the network and the network gets stronger with more routes, higher bandwidth and more redundancy with each device that is added.
Motorola recently announced a multi-radio, multi-frequency device that uses four radios, two in the 2.4GHz unlicensed Wi-Fi range and two in the licensed public safety bands at 4.9GHz.
Its designed for municipalities and state governments that want to separate critical operations such as homeland security and police communications from everyday traffic.
The technology, which evolved from what was previously developed for military use, supports up to 250 mph mobility as well as position location detection.
Presently, the technology is targeted to government and enterprise customers. But, if it succeeds there, dont be surprised to see it coming to a device near you.
Carol Ellison is editor of eWEEK.coms Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has worked as a technology journalist since 1986 and has covered the wireless industry since 2000.