The great mesh explosion

The unlimited growth potential with a mesh network makes this topology attractive for large enterprises and municipalities whose technology add-ons and needs are in a constant state of flux. Think local, state and regional municipalities and other organizations spread out across a vast landscape, or even the smaller customer who wants to stay connected reliably.

"Wireless mesh communications systems are endlessly scalable and customers can own and operate the network from end-to-end, so there are no limits to the growth potential for their businesses," said Tom Kenty, general manager of Sales for AES IntelliNet, a product of AES Corp., Peabody, Mass.


Grow with it

A mesh network has different configurations and offers redundancy through nodes and mesh access points (APs) which communicate with one another offering increased connection speeds and functionality. "A Wi-Fi mesh can reach a speed, connection speed/throughputs, that no public network can touch at this point," said Chip Yager, director of Operations, Motorola Mesh Networks Product Group, Holtsville, N.Y. Developers of the technology date back to the creation of military field communications, where licensed defense technology by a company called Mesh Networks was developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The exclusive rights to its development were not based on Wi-Fi or standard space but on ruggedized battlefield communications.

After years of focusing on its development to create a reliable wireless solution, the promise of a versatile system of tomorrow is here today. "Our focus has been on developing a wireless solution that could set itself apart in the market in terms of reliability, flexibility and ease of use," said Cosimo Malesci, co-founder and vice president of Marketing, Fluidmesh Networks, Boston, Mass. "We looked to differentiate ourselves through optimized transmission protocol." Networking is all about achieving better performances in terms of sustainable throughput and latency, two key parameters for video surveillance applications. "Transmission protocols need to be more resilient to interferences common issues in urban areas," added Malesci.

Not all mesh providers are Wi-Fi compliant and instead use 802.11, 802.16 cellular technologies or combinations of more than one type of radio to communicate within the mesh. "While Firetide uses 802.11 radios, the communications within the mesh are not Wi-Fi compliant and instead utilize deft changes to the radio MAC along with proprietary routing protocol, creating a virtual distributed wireless Ethernet switch," explained Ksenia Coffman, senior marketing director at Firetide, Los Gatos, Calif. "This architecture enables lower overhead, extra security of data through encapsulation, high throughput and the ability to handle multicast traffic."

Whether specializing in products catering to one protocol or offering those that can be deployed over all the platforms and bands, the needs of the client require careful consideration-as in any security deployment. "There needs to be a discussion on how to route messages consistently and rapidly and to do it in a way that the network is not getting a lot of overhead or using up all available bandwidth just communicating between nodes," stated Yager. "So there are networks that are in place that are using 1500 nodes or more. That is a big network." Barcelona, Spain, in order to move closer to "smart" city status, used a lot of applications on its mesh network, including Wi-Fi tags on the city's garbage dumpsters to alert sanitation when it is time for disposal. "This also helped to alleviate the amount of trucks on the road," Yager added. Other places to find mesh hard at work improving a city's function include traffic light control and parking meter reading.

Mesh may also be able to jump the hurdles necessary to future-proof a network. "Everybody looks for more capacity," said Coffman. "There is a need to add megapixel or HD cameras, or just increase the amount of cameras in use to more locations. So the future for mesh is in performance. But another trend is also flexible capacity, allowing upgrades to the systems with software keys, rather than replacing gear."

There are other factors for integrators to consider. According to Skip Ashton, senior vice president of engineering, Ember Corp., Boston, "integrators need to consider including a standards-based versus a propriety system, size of the network and robustness and reliability as the network's scale, security implications and the need to include third-party devices in the system."

Let Mesh Set You Apart

By offering a more flexible and cost-effective alternative to other types of connectivity, you can provide solutions other integrators may not be able to deliver. Regardless of what many wireless manufacturers say, providers need to have the capability of creating point-to-point, point-to-multipoint and mesh networks in order to be competitive in the market. They all fit different applications and topologies.

When including wireless networks as one of the solutions offered, seek out training. This will provide an in-depth understanding of system design, product configuration, installation procedures and troubleshooting.

Pay attention to detail, beginning with a close scrutiny of the system's design. A map of the site and a survey to check line-of-sight are mandatory. Be extremely accurate in estimating the traffic your network will need to support. Be conservative. Pre-configure the whole network in your warehouse including the cameras and NVR prior to installation. These important steps will guarantee a successful deployment after bench testing the network. Keep an eye on multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) products as they offer an interesting solution for high bandwidth applications. Get some understanding of MIMO, how it can be used and what performances can be achieved with directional antennas.-Cosimo Malesci, Fluidmesh Networks.