The Transformational Potential of Mesh Networks

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The Transformational Potential of Mesh Networks

A change is coming to the way you use the Internet and other communications technologies. For one thing, it will get much faster, probably as much as 100 times faster. Secondly, there will be another 3 billion people online, making the Web richer than ever before. Furthermore, we’ll have better reliability, cheaper connectivity, and more varieties of experience than we can now imagine.

Until recently, the cost, speed, and ease of connecting to any service, such as the Internet or cable television, was dictated by the non-scalable technologies involved in delivering the so-called “last mile.” Telephone poles were needed for phone and electric wires. Cable also had to be run to the home or office. Fiber optics had to be buried in the ground.

But in the very near future, so-called “mesh networks” are going to eliminate that barrier.1 The first generation of mesh networks was designed by the U.S. Defense Department as a way for tanks to communicate with one another on the battlefield. If one tank was taken out, the system would heal itself and continue working. Any node — or tank — could talk to any other by hopping from node to node.

Now this technology is about to transform the lives of civilians. Richardson, Texas, a small suburb of Dallas, will soon begin operating a third-generation mesh network employing 700 nodes, or access points, that will lay a high-speed wireless grid over the town.

This network, which cost $2 million, will deliver broadband connectivity to all 100,000 people in the community, eliminating the “last mile” barrier. It will run at a blazing 756 kilobytes per second, and it will be completely free for users. The network is expected to increase eventually to two gigabits per second, or 30 times faster than today.

For a small fee, users will be able to upgrade to 20 megabits per second of bandwidth; that’s 10 times faster than today’s fastest home connections, such as T-1 lines. In fact, it’s fast enough to download streaming video in real time. Once implemented, the new network will offer entertainment choices that will dwarf today’s selections.

In addition, it will enable live video conferencing far beyond anything available now, with high-definition cameras making the video phone a practical reality at last. The proof-of-concept installation in Texas will also handle all telephone services for the town, including free long distance, mediated by Skype or a competing firm.

Furthermore, the system will also enable anyone to place a Wi-Fi camera anywhere and monitor it in real time...

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