Adding Clients to the Mesh

If Wi-Fi is in its nascent stages, then mesh networking — creating self-healing, self-configuring wireless connections — is barely a zygote. There are no standards, with none even on the horizon, but that’s not stopping new companies from coming along regularly with new twists on how a mesh can improve a wireless LAN.

The latest startup to enter this arena is Belmont, Calif.-based PacketHop, which this week announced its first commercial application directed at the broadband market.

The company’s technology is based in part on patents from SRI International; PacketHop is a spinoff of SRI in fact. Michael Howse, the CEO and co-founder of PacketHop, says that when mobile started to take off in the 1970s, SRI “had the first TCP session over a mobile connection.” From all that field testing and trialing, the company has moved into high profile programs to bring the Internet to wireless users, which lead to the formation of the company.

PacketHop, which doesn’t make hardware but rather the software to run the mesh network, is looking not only at access points, PCs and mobile devices like PDAs as potential users of its technology, but also the consumer electronics, automotive, enterprise and even homeland security markets.

“A result of the proliferation of Wi-Fi means there’s a unique opportunity here to make them all into network devices,” says Howse.

The PacketHop technology will run on standard Internet Protocol (IP) with standard 802.11 radios and operating systems. Using routing protocols they say are similar to used those in the development of TCP/IP for routing Internet traffic, the PacketHop mesh will move information around a network by the shortest open path. The technology also incorporates solutions for security, Quality of Services (QoS) and network management via software in a network operations center.

“The advantage of our company is that our focus on the network layer lets us scale to many markets,” says Howse.

He says the company is working on a “high profile” deployment now that they’ll announce in the first quarter of 2004.

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