Wireless Mesh Renaissance : In tandem with 4 G Technologies

Presentation1Wi-Fi has already delivered secure, high-speed Internet access from thousands of “hot spots”— restaurants, libraries, schools, bus terminals, airports or other public places via millions of APs.Wi-Fi evolved from IEEE 802.11 (3Mbit/sec.) to 802.11b (11Mbit/sec.) to 802.11g/a (54Mbit/sec.) and now at 802.11n ( 300 Mbit.sec ).Although the transmission rate has risen dramatically, the range of is still limited. Meshing is an extension of Wi- Fi that takes advantage of high data rates by having every wireless device act as a router/repeater. This enables very long links—even several miles—between users and APs by “hopping” through a series of short links. While the range of Wi-Fi is limited per link, meshing lets users string these links together to cover a virtually unlimited range. The coverage area of the radio nodes working as a single network is sometimes called a mesh cloud.

Meshing is based on military-funded research designed to meet the requirements for battlefield communications, a major advancement from the Wi-Fi networking technology. Devices enabled with Wi-Fi chips can send and receive information anywhere within the range of an access point (AP). The mesh principle is similar to the way packets travel around the wired Internet— data will hop from one device to another until it reaches its destination. Dynamic routing algorithms implemented in each device allow this to happen. Meshing creates a self-forming, self-balancing network that makes deployment significantly less costly, faster and more robust. The technique is less expensive both in installation and ongoing monthly costs because it reduces the total number of backhaul links needed. Users can cover large areas from a single Wi-Fi AP/backhaul combination by using wireless routers to extend coverage over large distances for much less cost than putting up multiple APs.

Because a meshed network is self-forming, network providers needn’t spend a lot of time and money re-engineering the network. If more coverage is needed, they can drop in a wireless router to automatically extend coverage. Providers can cover areas that don’t have backhaul available such as a large park, beach or body of water—by deploying routers. Meshed networks are also self-healing and self-balancing, so traffic congestion or failures at a particular access point can be resolved automatically. For example, if an AP at a popular Coffee shop becomes overloaded with users, meshing automatically causes some of the users to “hop” over to nearby APs. Network utilization, an important parameter for network operators, increases dramatically because of this self-balancing act. From the user’s standpoint, there’s higher performance and the potential for lower service costs.

An IBM’s research study called the “Citywide Broadband Study,” examines how these autonomic networks could change the way communities work and play. A number of municipalities in the USA are learning that practical applications of mesh networking go well beyond the emergency-response example cited above. Each device in a city— traffic signals; message signs; public transit assets such as buses, electronic information kiosks and video cameras—would become part of a grid of wireless devices that communicate with one another and transfer information throughout the network.

The city of the future a.k.a SMART CITY will deploy a large-scale mesh network to keep their workers and first-responders productive, no matter where they are in the community. A single infrastructure that supports many different municipal applications and departments ultimately reduces networking costs and simplifies operations. With pervasive Wi-Fi, court officers, building inspectors, transit workers, social services workers, and other city employees can perform their duties effectively while in the field. Wi-Fi hot zones also support business development and are a convenience for the general public. Cities can install telemetry and smart grid services using mesh networks to support automated traffic control, smart utility meters, and smart parking meters. Mesh networks also enable sensors used for earthquake, tsunami and gas detection, among others.

Wireless mesh networks are ideal to connect industrial operations and sites such as oil and gas fields, mining and construction areas, which are difficult to network because of their geography. With pervasive Wi-Fi, field workers communicate easily and have access to key applications. Mesh enabled IP video surveillance and access control also protect the organization’s field operations and crew.

Even cutting edge Mobile Operators are using carrier grade Wireless Mesh as part of the Data Offload and incremental revenue strategy. In 2010 Mobily Saud Arabia ( who launched the first TD LTE commercial network in the world ) noticed a massive increase in data usage, fuelled by offering unlimited data subscriptions. Against this backdrop of increasing data usage, Mobily saw Wi-Fi as an efficient way to reduce the cellular capex investment in broadband infrastructure needed to match this spike in data usage. Today Mobily has around 350-400 public hotspots with each Hotspot comprising of multiple Wi-Fi Access Points covering multiple business verticals including cafes, hotels, hospitals, outdoor, and some challenging venues such as stadiums and Holy Pilgrimage areas.

Mobily’s business model is predicated on a hotspot portal based Wi-Fi virtual network with multiple service monetization models for both Mobily and non Mobily subscribers PLUS a cellular-to-Wi-Fi offloading virtual network, offering seamless and secure user experience with the use of EAP-SIM protocol and WISPr clients. Mobily intends to “offload” at least 20% of current mobile broadband traffic onto Wi-Fi networks and is designing the Wi-Fi network to meet this key performance objective . The Hotspot 2.0 standard will open the door for inbound roamers to connect seamlessly and securely to Mobily’s Wi-Fi network while their usage is being charged back to their home operator.

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )

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