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WiFi mesh-networking draft standard approved

The IEEE standards group working on interoperable WiFi mesh networks has taken an important step forward by adopting a single proposal as the basis for the new standard. The new standard sets the stage for a battle royal between WiFi mesh and 802.16 technologies such as WiMAX and ETSI HiperMAN. The new standard will be called 802.11s. It will define the WLAN MAC and PHY for "extended service set mesh networking." The goal (brace yourself now) was to create a protocol for auto-configuring paths between APs over self-configuring multi-hop topologies in a wireless distribution system (WDS) to support both broadcast/multicast and unicast traffic in an ESS Mesh using the four-address frame format or an extension. Translation: The standard will allow WLAN APs mobility.

The beginning did not look promising, with 15 proposals submitted to the working group when it met in July 2005. It took two months to whittle the list to four proposals, and four more months, until January 2006, to wind them down to two proposals (or, rather, approaches). As was the case with 802.11n and UWB, powerful companies joined to create powerful coalitions behind the two approaches. The first coalition was the Wi-Mesh Alliance (WiMA), created last year and led by Nortel. Supporters include Accton Technology, ComNets, InterDigital Communications, NextHop Technologies, Philips, Extreme Networks, MITRE, Naval Research Laboratory, Swisscom Innovations and Thomson. In the opposite corner was the SEEMesh coalition, backed by Intel, Nokia, Motorola, NTT DoCoMo and Texas Instruments. To the surprise of many, the two coalitions managed to reach a compromise on a single joint proposal, which the IEEE working group quickly approved. Final approval of 802.11s is targeted for 2008.

For more on the joint mesh-networking standard:
- see this Telecomweb report

ALSO: Farpoint's Craig Mathias is bullish on mesh networks. The problem with WLANs in public venues, he writes, is the core challenge that any cellular network faces: back haul. "The interconnection of outdoor access points would normally be the source of most of the expense in deploying metro-scale WLANs, but this isn't the reality we see today. Rather, we can interconnect the access points (AP) wirelessly, using a technique based on the concept of a mesh... A wireless mesh allows APs to be connected only to power and then to interface with the rest of the infrastructure by relaying information to other APs--in other words, the back haul is wireless. This allows an operator to quite literally blanket an area with APs and provision over-the-air back haul at basically zero cost for this interconnect." Analysis

PLUS: If your company is in Tempe, AZ (but not only there), you're now faced with a decision: Should you spend money on metro-area WiFi services or cellular data services such as 1x EV-DO? Analysis

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