Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wireless Mesh Network Easing Deployment and Lowering Costs

In a wireless mesh network, most of the access points do not have a hard-wired connection to the Internet. This architecture varies from traditional wireless local area networks, or WLANs. In a typical WLAN, computer or PDA users connect wirelessly to the Internet through one of many network access points. Every access point on a WLAN must have a physical, wired connection to a network.

However, wireless mesh networks route traffic intelligently through a few, selected wired nodes. This architecture provides a major benefit for large-scale wireless applications. For example, a traditional wireless network deployed across many industrial process control locations would require hundreds or maybe thousands of nodes. Since each access point needs to be wired, the installation, cabling, maintenance and other requirements could be crippling for some applications.

On the other hand, a wireless mesh network can quickly and easily install the few needed access points. With the associated implementation costs slashed, these networks become an attractive option for numerous applications.

Best Suited Markets

Typically, wireless mesh networks are targeted for applications in large, open areas where network cabling doesn't exist and would be cost-prohibitive to install. These networks can be installed inside a facility or outdoors. The goal is to bring communication services to all locations.

Markets currently pursuing wireless mesh technologies include local governments that want to provide voice and data services to government agencies such as police, fire, medical and other employees. Universities also want to provide campus-wide coverage for students, faculty and administration. In addition, event venues benefit from this rapidly deployed technology.

In the private sector, large manufacturing operations find wireless mesh networks are viable alternatives to traditional WLANs. Extensive cabling is so costly and labor-intensive that many companies may not be able to afford a deployment if wireless mesh did not exist.

Planning and Implementation

The first step in planning for a wireless mesh installation is to carefully consider the environment. Many factors can impede the network's performance and degrade or block wireless signals. For example, in an outdoor application, building locations, trees, and any manmade or natural obstruction can negatively impact performance. Indoor environment performance might be affected by building construction and interference from microwave ovens and other electrical equipment.

Next, companies or public entities must determine how the network will be used. In other words, how many users are expected? What type of applications will they use? What bandwidth is required? Can sufficient security measures be put in place?

Finally, coverage issues and goals must be carefully evaluated. One of the major benefits of a industrial wireless network is the ability for access points to share information and strategically transport traffic. However, if traffic has to travel across a large number of access points before it reaches a wired connection, performance in the form of delays can result.

Redundancy must also be configured into the network. If one access point becomes inoperable, the network can still function without any glitches. Therefore, network designers must play a balancing act, in essence, to ensure the right levels of coverage and connections. In other words, a wireless mesh network can cover larger areas with fewer connections than traditional WLANs - and at greatly reduced costs. However, an appropriate number of connections must be configured to ensure high performance levels.

Because of the potential benefits, wireless mesh networks continue to gain traction in public and private sector applications. Increased coverage, speed and reliability are positive features attracting many organizations. However, the real draw for wireless mesh networks is the ease of deployment and lower associated costs. This technology is perfectly suited to applications in which existing cabling doesn't exist and coverage must span a wide area.

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