A standard for WLAN mesh networking has moved significantly closer after two groups with rival proposals agreed to merge and present a common front, not least because they both need to address the challenge of WiMAX.
Wireless mesh networks have been around for a couple of years already, with a number of start-ups vying for the market’s attention with such heavy-hitters as Motorola, Nortel, Intel and Philips. There has, however, been no IEEE standard for how WiFi meshes should be built, tying customers into proprietary technology.
The IEEE’s Mesh Networking Task Group was set up in July last year to address this issue, initially receiving 15 different proposals which it whittled down to two. This was when there appeared to be a face-off coming between two rival groups, to the delight of IT journalists.
On one side was the WiMesh Alliance (WiMA), created by Nortel and with other members that included Philips, Extreme, NextHop, Swisscom, Thomson and Accton, and on the other SEEMesh, with backers including Intel, Nkia, Motorola, NTT DoCoMo and Texas Instruments.
Perhaps drawing on the bitter experience of ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, where standardization efforts were called off by the IEEE in January failure of the two rivals there to agree, last week WiMA and SEEMesh asked for and received permission from the standards body to attempt a common proposal. That proposal was forged, and has now been accepted by IEEE as the basis on which work can proceed.
A final standard is still some way off. The chair of the Task Group reckons final approval won’t be before 2008. Still, the fact that there’s a common proposal enables everyone in the business to sing from the same hymn sheet, which in turn stands it in better stead to face WiMAX.
The issue here is that mesh networking vendors seek to extend WLAN connectivity (i.e. 802.11) into larger environments, whether big covered spaces like shopping malls, factories or warehouses, or outdoor ones, even entire cities.
At the same time, they see the WiMAX community coming up on the outside, with the Bush administration talking spectrum licensing as early as this year for what is ultimately a wireless WAN technology (WWAN).
As such, the mesh brigade needs a standard, albeit a proto-standard, if it is to avoid seeing WiMAX eat its lunch. WiMA and SEEMesh appear to have recognized that fact and united against a common enemy.