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Moving into mesh

Moving into mesh

With a little help from wireless mesh technology, staff and students at a Perth-based university are getting wireless access to applications and resources from any campus location, whether indoors or outdoors.

Welcome to the souped up world of Edith Cowan University where, thanks to the rollout of a wireless mesh network in concert with some traditional WLAN gear, the staff and students are getting secured wireless access campus-wide.

The top benefit is boosting communications across a large number of wireless nodes deployed over a big geographical area.

Claiming it was the first mesh rollout in Australia, the university is benefiting from lower costs thanks to a combination of mesh and wireless LAN technology, according to Nortel mobility lifecycle manager, Jean-Ives Empeigne.

As well as being secure, reliable and low-cost it is expandable to meet future bandwidth and technology demands including converged voice, video and data communications.

The mesh network will cover more than 130 hectares across four campuses including 168 buildings. It uses 801.11 standards, letting users of Wi-Fi-enabled laptops or handhelds to access the network without needing additional hardware or software.

Lose those wires

In essence, wireless mesh networks reduce the need for wired connections in wireless LANs by letting multiple access points carry each others traffic. It eliminates the need to wire a large number of access points, which can be a costly endeavour.

Each device on the mesh network receives and transmits its own traffic, while acting as a router for other devices. The intelligence in each device lets it automatically configure efficiently.

An attractive feature is the ability to self-heal, which reduced maintenance costs, Nortel's Empeigne said. Centralised management has vastly improved during the last two years.

"You can plug in a device and all the configuration is done remotely. You can also find multiple paths into the network," he said

And while the technology is appealing to select verticals including education, mining and emergency services, enterprises could use mesh to quickly create new wireless networks or extend existing WLANs without needing a wired connection to each base station.

Mesh networks were good at load balancing because they could choose the most efficient path for data, Cisco consulting systems engineer, Adam Radford, said. The technology was beneficial because it boosted flexibility.

"The technology can be an access point and a bridge at the same time; you can get both functions in the same box," he said.

It is opening up new opportunities for resellers, according to Wireless Tech Australia sales and applications consultant, Eric Gagnaux.

Wireless mesh technology accounts for 70 per cent of the distributor's business. It peddles two mesh lines from US-based vendors including Strix Systems and Tropos Networks, which Gagnaux said are the two major players in the mesh industry today.

Tropos has 300 deployments worldwide with seven here in Australia, while Strix has 150 globally and about five in the local market. Wireless Tech has 25 resellers across the country but is trawling for more - particularly in ACT and Tasmania.


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