Motorola has agreed to buy MeshNetworks, a developer of technology and products for rapidly deployed, self-creating wireless mobile networks.
Motorola already licenses software and distributes products from the privately-held company. Its Motorola Ventures arm invests in the company. Financial terms of the deal, which is expected to close by the end of this year, were not disclosed.
Mesh networking has its roots in military applications but is beginning to move into the civilian arena. It lets users of mobile devices create self-forming and self-healing wireless networks that can reach beyond the range of established wireless hotspots.
The technology had potential applications ranging from enterprises to home entertainment, for delivering data, video, voice and location information, Motorola said.
"We're looking to use this technology broadly across all our businesses," director of business development at Motorola, Kelly Mark, said. Potential uses for mesh technology included public safety, wireless data, home entertainment and cellular networks, he said.
Mesh technology overcame the distance limitations of wireless networks by using a series of clients or access points as repeaters, vice-president of technical marketing at MeshNetworks, Rick Rotondo, said. If a radio's data-carrying capacity fell off beyond a short distance, the network could send signals over greater distances by using many radios spaced at close intervals.
"I'm a big fan of meshes, and I suspect they'll be broadly influential in wireless for the foreseeable future," industry analyst, Craig Mathias, said. The technology could be applied to many different types of wireless networks layered on top of the particular radio standard in use, he said.
One limitation of mesh networks was that using many hops in a network could introduce delays that could degrade the quality of real-time traffic such as voice.
MeshNetworks makes communications systems with a proprietary technology called Quadrature Division Multiple Access (QDMA), primarily for public safety and municipal networks.
Though it could operate in the same radio spectrum as Wi-Fi, about 2.4GHz, QDMA could send and receive data in vehicles travelling up to 366kmh, compared with about 50kmh miles for Wi-Fi, Rotondo said.
With this technology, teams could set up peer-to-peer networks on the fly, he said, giving the example of firefighters who hadto respond to a fire outside the coverage area of a public safety wireless network.
The company also sold a chip for QDMA as well as software that could add mesh capabilities to standard Wi-Fi products, Rotondo added.
In a current application, mesh technology can slash the cost of metropolitan-scale wireless data networks, according to Motorola's Mark. It does this by eliminating the need for a wired backhaul at every access point, one of the biggest costs of a wireless hotspot.
With a mesh, data could travel through many access points to a handful that had wired connections, he said.