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Intel hangs mesh hopes on 802.11s

IDF: A new networking standard promises easy configuration, higher bandwidth and more flexibility for home and office wireless networks
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Intel has unveiled its first proposals for 802.11s, a new mesh wireless networking standard.

Mesh networks are self-configuring systems where each node can relay messages on behalf of others, thus increasing the range and available bandwidth. W. Steven Conner, wireless network architect at Intel and technical editor of the IEEE's 802.11s task group, told engineers at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Wednesday that at present there are no standards for this.

Although mesh networks are already in use for very large deployments in cities such as Taipei, and in some industry sectors, none of the systems interoperate or are suitable for domestic or office environments, Conner claimed. The 802.11s group, which met for the first time in July 2004, has just issued its first call for proposals, and Intel is keen for the new standard to cover domestic and small business environments.

Intel's proposals build on top of existing standards, such as 802.11a/b/g wireless transmission protocols and 802.11i security, and is compatible with them. It adds extra functions to allow wireless nodes to discover each other, authenticate and establish connections, and to work out the most efficient route for a particular task. This includes the concept of quality of service, so a broadband video stream might take a different route across a home environment than a Web connection, to achieve higher bandwidth. This level of self-configuration and environmental awareness not only creates efficient wireless networks, Conner said, but automates the entire process of installation and reconfiguration.

The company is also introducing the idea of Mesh Portals -- devices that know how to connect complete mesh networks to other, potentially non-mesh systems such as classic 802.11 networks, new standards such as 802.11n, broadband access points or different wireless technologies such as Ultrawideband and mobile data sources.

Although some recent wireless standardisation efforts have had problems due to entrenched opposing views, Intel thinks there is little risk of this with 802.11s.

The standardisation process is expected to produce a firm proposal towards the end of 2006 or the beginning of 2007, with ratification following a year later. Conner told ZDNet UK that his initial soundings among the 802.11s members indicate that a consensus may be on the cards.

Intel is hoping to promote the idea of a core set of standards that work with small meshes of up to around 25 or so reasonably static nodes in close proximity, but in the context of an extensible framework that allows many different mesh models to be implemented. Intel says this should mean anyone with different ideas will be free to implement them, but always in a way that interoperates cleanly with the core protocols.

By limiting the initial core functions, the company says, the additional amount of processing required in the network nodes will be easily managed by the existing class of network adaptors and consumer electronic devices, and as no changes need to be made to existing hardware 802.11s-compatible equipment should reach the market quickly.

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