Finns get city-wide mesh network

The Northern Finnish city of Oulu is expanding its wireless network with mesh technology

One of Finland's largest cities is building out a metropolitan mesh network to provide high-speed voice, video and data access to its citizens.

The city of Oulu announced on Thursday that it is using mesh-networking technology from wireless networking manufacturer Strix Systems to double its existing outdoor Wi-Fi coverage with an extra 60 outdoor mesh nodes in the city centre.

Overall, Oulu is committed to adding around 210 extra access points to the network — known as panOULU — by the end of 2007.

"This is a good example of an innovative public and private partnership that can be established to enable large-scale wireless access networks and bring entire cities online," said Jim Mooreland, vice president of worldwide sales for Strix, on Thursday at NetEvents in Geneva. 

Mesh networks are made up of individual mesh nodes, which have the ability to automatically form connections with other nodes within range, and reroute traffic if a node drops offline. This makes the networks self-organising.

Oulu is the largest city in Northern Finland with a population of 130,000. It already has substantial but mostly indoor wireless access, with 675 access points in total — of which 60 presently provide outdoor coverage. Outdoor nodes currently include 11 mobile-access points placed on buses, a ferry and even a mobile library.

According to city authorities, 5,656 different devices accessed the network during January 2007. It is run by a consortium of seven organisations including the University of Oulu and Oulu Polytechnic.

The UK has its own wireless cities initiative, which is being run in conjunction with BT and Motorola. The project will see parts of 12 UK cities go wireless by the end of March 2007.

The cities taking part so far are Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool and Westminster. Cardiff and Westminster represent extensions of the scheme, as smaller Wi-Fi networks already exist in both places.

Strix Systems claims that its mesh-networking products can support up to 768 users per node with throughput of around 35Mbps (megabits per second). The company recently received an undisclosed, but what it claims was significant, investment from Korean hardware maker Samsung, which is heavily pushing research and development in WiMax.

WiMax — especially mobile WiMax, or 802.16e — is widely seen as the next step for wireless technologies, but the mobile standard is yet to be ratified. However, the likes of Intel and Motorola are already investing heavily in mobile chipsets to take advantage of the technology when it gains more momentum.

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