Mesh Networks … the next step in wireless?
Over the last several years doing my research into wearable computers (and thinking about how to do peer to peer wireless with my friends while we are rollerblading!) I began to look into packet relay using low-power radios. I was then at one of the George Gilder Telecosm conferences where a presenter from MIT talked about his research into these types of networks.

The presenter (I can’t find his name now) talked about how huges areas could be covered with low power radios, and that they would relay/route for each other to allow for massive distributed networks to be created. I was intrigued. I started to look for radios that would meet the criteria that I had … decent distance with mid-speed bandwith. I am still looking for affordable radios to do this, but believe that I found some at Comdex that will fit the bill … more on this later.

The next steps were to think about routing in a completely distributed “mesh” network. If a group of people (firefighters, search and rescue, my friends and I on blades …) are scattered across a physical area, then how do you do the routing? If everyone relays all packets, then you run into the issues of too much noise and unnecessary packet repeating. How do you route then?

The answer hit me (of course while in the shower!) several months back while pondering this … GPS! With GPS I can actually create a routing protocol that is completely dependent on physical location … not network connections. If each person not only has a radio, but a working GPS, then I can address someone by their location. I have a location, and my friend has a location. I send a packet with my source location, and their destination location. Anyone that “hears” my packet can then determine if they are “in between” the two locations, and if it makes sense for them to relay the packet to assist.

When this hit me, I knew that I have this figured out. I am now on my quest for radios, and as I get my two new Xybernaut wearable computers, I am going to begin to work on this. In the mean time, one of my consulting clients is doing some work in this area to address some last-mile wireless issues … and this article is showing that the understanding of “mesh network” potential is growing!

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