Wireless mesh aimed at cities, hospitals, campus environments

Wireless mesh networks, which allow access points to route traffic to one another instead of through a cable, will initially be popular in both campus environments and with municipal governments, experts predict.Early adopters will be schools, hospitals and other organizations with several buildings on a campus, said Brownlee Thomas, Montreal-based principal analyst for Forrester Research Inc.’s telecom and networks group.
Although it’s expensive to install wireless access points suitable for a mesh environment, it can be even more expensive to run cabling to every access point, Thomas said.
“It’s so much easier to change it and to add on to it and to replace it,” she said. “It’s a much lower cost than re-pulling cable, and opening walls and looking at floor plans and conduits.”
But she added there’s “no obvious advantage” for a company that already has Category 6 cabling installed.
The Wi-Mesh Alliance is working on the standard and has made a proposal to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, but some organizations are already installing proprietary mesh networks.
For example, the Royal Ottawa Hospital plans to have a mesh network in place by the end of next year. Its supplier, Nortel Networks Corp., is also providing mesh networks to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and to the city of Taipei, Taiwan.
“Wireless mesh allows you to extend your wireless LAN in a fairly large geographic region, essentially providing a blanket of mobility,” said Bilel Jamoussi, Nortel’s director of strategic standards.
Nortel wants a standard that will apply to all major target markets for wireless mesh, including consumers, small offices, campuses, military and security applications, Jamoussi said.
The Brampton, Ont.-based equipment manufacturer plans to allow security between access points using the IEEE 802.11i standard, and to add extensions to the 802.11e quality of service standard.
“The demand we’re seeing for customers is not just for data applications, but down the line, real-time multimedia applications, voice over IP, et cetera,” Jamoussi said.
He predicted a draft standard will be published in May 2006 with a final standard available at the end of next year.
But the vendors and users won’t wait for the final standard, Thomas said.
“They will be hopeful that what they’re doing will be close to the standard and not be expensive to upgrade,” she said.
Thomas added some municipalities are looking for wireless networking technologies to replace their Frame Relay services and private lines.
She added local governments will also consider using WiMAX (designed to provide 40 Mbps connectivity at 10 km) to provide high-speed Internet connections in areas where local loops are not available from the telcos, or in areas where customers are too far from the central office to get digital subscriber line (DSL) service.
The WiMAX standard has not been ratified yet, but some organizations are building networks using pre-standard WiMAX base stations.
SR Telecom Inc. of Montreal has announced its Symmetry fixed wireless telecom gear will support the WiMAX standard once it’s ratified.
The manufacturer’s director of strategic marketing, Chad Pralle, said customers can upgrade to WiMAX by adding hardware to the base stations.

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