Mesh Networks: Bridging the Gap with Smartphones


By Donna Hemmert

AIS Network VP, Strategy

Trends like the Internet of Things are bringing more and more devices online and at breakneck speed.  Have you ever wondered how far Internet infrastructure can take us?  Is it infinitely scalable?  And even if it is, will it always scale at the speed we need it to? 

I have been researching Mesh Networks for a while and an article by Micha Benoliel on GigaOm came out this week that really makes some good sense.  His point? We aren’t keeping up with the gap between capacity and demand and we see the impact in the form of slow data connections and high prices on broadband Internet. He makes a good case for how Mesh Networks, using the Smartphone in your pocket, can bridge the gap. So, what are Mesh Networks and will they really make a difference?

Mesh Networks are wireless networks that rely on small number of access points (nodes) to connect users.  These nodes “talk” to each other to share the network connection across a large area.  These nodes are small radio transistors that use common WiFi standards like 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g.  This means they often use existing and/or inexpensive technology and can wirelessly connect a whole city or more.  Dynamic routing is utilized and data travels from node to node on the quickest and safest path.

Because  a Mesh Network is truly wireless, it is not like a traditional wireless network that require miles upon miles of Ethernet cabling – dug into the ground or in your walls in your home.  And with Mesh Networks, only one single node has to be physically wired to a network connection.  If that single node is wired, it can then broadcast and share its Internet connection wirelessly with many other nodes, which in turn share the connection wirelessly with the nodes closest to them.   The more nodes, the wider the mesh network goes…. get the idea?

Mesh Networks are getting a lot of attention for several reasons – they are cheap, they are easier to deploy, they rely on already prevalent WiFi standards, they are decentralized, and if one the data can’t take once path then another path can be used by hopping other nodes.

So back to Micha Benoliel’s recent article.  With a rising gap between capacity and demand, the smartphone in your pocket has all it needs to be a router.  Your smartphone can become part of a new generation of networks  – an actual node on a Mesh Network.  Can you imagine harnessing all that power?  As Micha put it, “It’s like crowdsourcing the network.” All it requires is the software and the willing parties.  Be sure to check out Micha’s article and comment below.  What do you think?

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