March 23, 2006



Posted: 12.15.05

The Wi-Fi Web

Cisco has recently announced the availability of its wireless mesh, a solution that interconnects a large number of indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi access points. Currently, meshed access points require a wired connection to each access point to drive traffic back into the network. It is often a challenge for companies that need a complex outdoor hotspot to provide a wired connection to each node. Cisco’s mesh technology solves this problem by enabling wireless interconnectivity between a large number of access points.
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By Rita Kushnir

What else distinguishes Cisco’s new product? “There’s a couple of key differences,” explains Ben Gibson, director of wireless and mobility marketing at Cisco. “One is the hardware architecture itself. [Often], solutions on the market use a single Wi-Fi radio in their access point, and that single radio provides both access and meshing connectivity. We decided to go with the dual-radio solution, because we want to be able to provide a dedicated radio for meshing interconnectivity, high performance and a [separate] dedicated radio for the access. It provides higher performance on both sides and increases the reliability of the whole outdoor network.”

“The second key area,” he continues, “is how we do our mesh. We’ve optimized our meshing protocol to provide the most optimal path decisions, as opposed to the wireline connection, which is very black and white—either the connection is available or it’s not.” Thus the mesh also has self-healing capabilities, as it constantly routes traffic between access points back to the network, choosing the best path.

“The third feature is centralized architecture. We utilize a wireless controller, a centralized device that manages and controls a large number of outdoor access points, or indoor access points, or any combination. This system adjusts the radio frequency (RF) to the air environment in real-time. Outdoors, Wi-Fi tends to be in a more chaotic environment, in terms of potential interference issues, and our controllers provide the ability to dynamically manage that RF environment to boost power.”

Cisco has just started shipping this product in November and it already has a number of municipal and enterprise clients, and many more lined up. Two cities—Dayton, Ohio, and Lebanon, Ore.—are currently in the process of deploying Cisco’s mesh. They plan to use it to provide public access, as well as for municipal services such as networking, parking meters, traffic systems and real-time roaming access for police, fire and emergency services. Lebanon is using the mesh to cover 40 square miles by interconnecting multiple meshes.

“Then there are a lot of different verticals,” says Gibson, “such as large manufacturing plants that want to provide Wi-Fi access to the workers for real-time access to data and supply chain management. Mesh can be a nice solution for that because some of these manufacturing plants don’t necessarily have wired connectivity available wherever they want to put an access point. We have several such projects going with the Department of Defense.” Cisco’s mesh allows the user to track any Wi-Fi–enabled or RFID-tagged asset as it moves through the manufacturing plant, retail warehouse or shipyard.

“In terms of applications,” says Gibson, “what we’re seeing is the emergence of not just data access but, particularly starting this year, a large increase in different types of devices that are Wi-Fi enabled, including PDAs and cellular phones with both Wi-Fi and cellular capabilities, and we’re starting to see increased interest in using Wi-Fi as a microcell technology.”

To help ease the deployment process, HP and IBM are partnering with Cisco on the systems integration side.

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