“Automatic assimilation is the essence”…Viva the mesh


IEEE Spectrum has number of articles on the winners and losers of 2005.

Of note is a piece, 'Viva Mesh Vegas' describing a pilot program in Las Vegas for a citywide broadband mobile wireless network using mesh technologies.

With the news that Vonage is to provide a service that will enable users to make telephone calls through wireless Internet connections at wireless hotspots and home-based Wi-Fi networks (or Netgear's rumoured entry into IP Phones), i think the IEEE article is right on the money:

"It's clear that unless the cellphone companies can produce something spectacular in the next 12 to 18 months, or there's an equally spectacular mesh network failure, municipal mesh is the future—at least in rural and suburban areas where the communications infrastructure isn't as well developed as in larger metropolitan areas."

It is the way a mesh network works that makes it 'disruptive technology'. The article explains:

"Automatic assimilation is the essence of what makes a mesh network tick and what makes it different from a standard Wi-Fi or cellular network, which follows a hub-and-spoke model. The hub-and-spoke model has a sharp distinction between hardware such as cellphones (spokes) and cellphone towers (hubs). In this situation, if two cellphone users want to talk to each other, their conversation must be relayed through the tower, even if they're sitting in adjoining rooms and the tower is a kilometer away.

Problems arise with the hub-and-spoke model as more users try to access the same hub. For example, if too many Wi-Fi users try to connect to the same wireless access point, network congestion can slow traffic. Eventually a point will be reached where no more users will be able to access the network at all. By the same token, if a conventional cellphone tower stops working because of a power failure or terrorist attack, users will be left unable to communicate with one another or the rest of the world.

But once brought into range of a mesh network (and authenticated as having permission to be part of the network), any piece of mesh hardware—such as a wireless router, an interface card for a laptop, or a mesh-enabled VoIP-based (for voice over Internet Protocol) radio—is assimilated into the network and starts acting as a relay. Every piece of equipment maintains a constantly updated so-called routing table that describes the best way of sending data from one point on the network to another."

How big is the size of the VoWi-Fi market? Techdirt has a view on the Vonage news:

"While this does appear to be one of the first widely marketed attempts at consumer VoWiFi, it's still not clear there's really that much demand for this type of solution. Most people savvy enough to want one of these will already have a mobile phone. While it's true that VoIP won't eat up minutes the way cellular plans do, most cellular plans offer such large buckets of minutes and free long distance, making them effectively flat-rate as well. Even if the calls are international, things like VoIP bridges offer a reasonable solution for a mobile phone user who wants to make cheap international calls. Furthermore, it requires people to carry yet another device -- and, in this case, one that probably has a fairly short battery life, considering the rate at which WiFi consumes power."

But Franks says:

"As more and more hotspots become available, these types of phone will become more and more useful.  Think about it. with no additional charges beyond the average Vonage monthly costs, you can chat all day from a hot spot in Germany to anyone in the US and Canada for free. I wish I had this when I lived in Frankfurt.

The landline carriers are already obsolete and soon the wireless carriers may also go the way of the chimney sweep."

My own opinion? I'm with Frank here. For long distance chat with family I regularly use IM with web-cams, etc. It seems to make sense that next step would be to have a single mobile VoWi-Fi-enabled device that I can use the same way.

All the over-hype and delays of 3G and the billions of dollars spent/wasted at the auctions by the telcos have gotten us nowhere, fast.

Viva VoIP, Viva VoWi-Fi, Viva the mesh.


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