France telecoms starts mesh pilot

A Parisian engineering school is going to be France's test bed for high-speed mesh networking

Come September, one engineering school will be getting their net access courtesy of a mesh network built by France Telecom. The former French state telco is testing out the Wi-Fi-based 'network of networks' and doing away with cables between nodes.

Wi-Fi mesh networks are already attracting growing interest in France. While some local authorities are trialling the technology, France Telecom is due to start its own pilot in a real-world environment in September.

The operator is currently rolling out a test mesh network on the campus of the Paris engineering school Supélec in order to get some hard data on the performance and stability of such a system, France Telecom said.

In mesh networks, some of the nodes are given additional routing functionality. With France Telecom's test that functionality will be added to the wireless access points, allowing them to communicate with each other, as well as communicating with users via the Wi-Fi connection.

Véronique Bayle, head of the mesh project at France Telecom, said: "The advantage is that we no longer need to put Ethernet cables between each of the nodes, as you'd find in traditional Wi-Fi networks."

Some 50 nodes, spaced about 40m apart, are now being rolled out across the campus in teaching buildings and halls of residence.

"We expect the rollout time and the cost of installation for this [mesh] network to be shorter [than a traditional one] — we will be looking at by how much," Bayle added.

By September the operator believes that between 20 and 25 percent of the campus will be covered — around 10,000 square metres. The project has a target of 95 percent coverage in 2006. France Telecom is also promising the network will achieve speeds of between 20Mbps and 22Mbps.

The pilot is due to last until the end of 2006.