Meshing with standards

The announcement this week that Motorola will buy MeshNetworks immediately pushes the profile of wireless mesh networking technology to a new level, though the acquisition is already being challenged as a move away from an open standards approach.

Michael Howse, president and chief executive of PacketHop, a MeshNetworks rival and a leading member of the 4.9 GHz Open Standards Coalition (4.9 OSC), thinks the Motorola/MeshNetworks move runs counter to what the market wants.

"The open approach is needed if organizations such as government and public safety agencies are to take advantage of all the innovation that's happening now in wireless," he said. "They want the flexibility to be able to pick and choose from different vendors who are knowledgeable in wireless networking."

Motorola, one of the wireless industry's leading companies, has traditionally taken a proprietary approach to the market, Howse said.

The 4.9 coalition was one of the principal drivers behind a recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission to increase the choices for homeland security and emergency response by allowing agencies to use commercial off-the-shelf wireless technologies available for frequencies adjacent to 4.9 GHz, the band designated in 2002 for public safety use.

However, MeshNetworks denied that its acquisition by Motorola would affect the open standards movement in wireless networking. If anything, said Joe Hamilla, the company's vice president of engineering, MeshNetworks and Motorola will probably increase their efforts in standards work.

"We've both been very active in standards bodies up to now and we've supported all of the (wireless networking) standards efforts," he said.

MeshNetworks has recently scored well-publicized wins in the past year to build IP-based broadband communications networks for cities such as Medford, Ore., and Las Vegas. Hamilla said the linkup with Motorola will allow MeshNetworks to reach new customers and move into other application areas by leveraging Motorola's support and distribution channels.

One area with great potential, Hamilla said, is the sensor market, especially where large structures such as bridges and facilities covering many acres have to monitored, but where the costs of running cable might be prohibitive.

Motorola sees even broader potential, with possible applications reaching from the public safety arena through intelligent transportation, cellular data and telematics.

"We already have a ton of capability in wireless networking, but MeshNetworking brings on board a team that's very knowledgeable in ad hoc networking, already fully commercialized products and a nice portfolio of patents," said Juergen Stark, a corporate vice president at Motorola. "That means we can get products to market a lot faster."

Once the acquisition is final, he said, Motorola/MeshNetworking will publish a roadmap of where the merger is expected to go in terms of markets and products. New products should start arriving six to 12 months later, he said.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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