Radio meshups

WiMax may be making waves, but Wi-Fi mesh is delivering results on the ground in the Middle East. So says Firas Al-Abduwani, CEO of Hussam Technology Company; NME quizzed him on what Wi-Fi mesh can offer.

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By  Administrator Published  April 10, 2007

NME: How does Wi-Fi mesh differ from current WiMax projects?

FA: Wi-Fi mesh and WiMax are both emerging solutions that are complimentary in many instances, but can be competitive.

WiMax was founded with IP origins rather than cellular origins and had the carriers and large ISPs in mind. It is a very solid technology for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint requirements over long distances.

Wi-Fi mesh on the other hand, while also an IP based solution, grew from the other direction; ie, from the hotspot size. It is growing in scalability to fit the requirements of ISPs, municipalities and eventually carriers. Wi-Fi enabled devices number in the tens of millions; thus, accessibility to end customers is much easier than with WiMax.

Another differentiator is the frequency bands the two solutions utilise. Wi-Fi mesh utilises the unlicensed bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and hence in Middle Eastern countries where these bands are truly unlicensed, deployment is straight forward for any entity. Some Wi-Fi mesh companies have now started supporting licensed bands including the 3.5GHz band to attract the carriers' interest, where frequency band saturation and interference is an issue. WiMax on the other hand is a firmly licensed band solution and is hence applicable to a narrower segment of the market.

NME: What are the potential applications for mesh?

FA: The applications are diverse and are linked to the entity interested in them. For example, deployments in construction sites utilise the mesh network on different VLANs for surveillance and CCTV; perimeter control, whereby device IDs are authenticated by a central server; and voice/data network for construction engineers. When it comes to ISPs, the interest is mainly in data. However, many of the second tier ISPs also have their eyes set on the voice market, awaiting some form of liberalisation that would allow them to provide VoIP services as well. An interesting segment that we hadn't foreseen originally, but is a common mesh requirement is the leisure market. Many large rural expeditions (camping trips) that are fitted with a satellite connection on a vehicle are limited in distributing that connectivity to the camp. A hotspot can only go so far, but a mesh network can easily accommodate a much large camp site efficiently.

NME: What are some of the technical challenges which come with mesh networks?

FA: The deployment of mesh networks is pretty straight forward. Having a good RF understanding is necessary for an optimal mesh network deployment. Adequate provisioning of electricity is sometimes an issue to be prepared for and can be solved by incorporating solar panels or batteries and charge controllers where necessary. As Wi-Fi mesh solutions are transparent layer two networks building on top of them is also straight forward. Authorisation, Authentication and Accounting (AAA) solutions can be incorporated where required in a straight forward manner too. A non-technical challenge that is the most difficult to deal with is the regulatory hurdles in certain countries where only the 2.4GHz band is available and at 100mW. This forces the mesh network solution to be far too dense to be economical in most situations. Once the 5GHz band is liberalised at 1W as per the ITU recommendations, mesh becomes far more enticing.

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