Wireless Mesh Networks Are Growing along with the IoT

Metcalfe’s Law is an axiom from Ethernet developer Bob Metcalfe that says the value of a network increases as the number of connection points increases. Using a wireless mesh network to support the Internet of Things (IoT) demonstrates this principle beautifully.

In a traditional Wi-Fi network, endpoint devices connect to wireless access points (APs) that are connected to the LAN by a network cable. The devices connected to a particular AP share the available bandwidth.

Wireless meshes are ad hoc networks formed by whatever nodes happen to be in range. While this certainly involves permanently installed APs, it also includes nearby wireless devices. Smartphones, tablets, laptops and IoT devices can all act as routers/repeaters that pass data along to the next node.

The network actually becomes more efficient with each additional connection. Wireless mesh networks feature a “multi-hop” topology in which data packets “hop” from one node to another until they reach their final destination. The greater the number of available nodes, the greater the distance the data packet can ultimately travel.

This results in big boosts to the range and speed of wireless signals. It is estimated that 50 meshed devices can transform a typical Wi-Fi network with a 500-foot range into one that extends five miles. Increasing capacity or extending the coverage area is as simple as adding more nodes, which can be fixed or mobile.

That’s why wireless mesh networks are often used to provide access over a large outdoor area. Instead of a “hotspot,” wireless mesh can enable “blanket” coverage as large as 50 square miles or more.

A wireless mesh network is also inherently reliable and resilient. Like the Internet and other peer-to-peer, router-based networks, a mesh offers multiple redundant communications paths. If one link fails for any reason, packets simply jump to the next available node — finding the best path for the conditions at any given moment.

The possible commercial applications are numerous. In the energy and utilities sector, for example, wireless mesh can be used to connect sensors and other IoT devices in remote areas. It is also widely used for “smart city” applications, with connected traffic controls, parking meters and monitoring systems. And because wireless mesh networks make it easier for users to “roam,” they are ideal for “connected car” applications.

Of course, wireless mesh can be used within buildings to connect areas that lack wired network access. Wireless mesh APs can also serve as repeaters that provide backhaul connectivity for wired devices that are distant from the corporate network. Examples might include video surveillance cameras and building automation sensors.

Wireless mesh networks can be implemented using standard Wi-Fi technologies. Traditionally, they came with significant limitations, but the latest Wi-Fi standards and advances in radio and antenna hardware have greatly improved performance.

According to new research released by ReportsnReports.com, the wireless mesh network market is forecast to see a compound annual growth rate of more than 13 percent, from $3.89 billion in 2017 to $7.44 billion. Demand is being driven by rapid increases in bandwidth requirements, adoption of smart connected devices, and the need for consistent and stable network connectivity.

Robust wireless connectivity is a must-have for any organization looking to leverage the IoT. Wireless mesh can help boost the value of your network by supporting growing numbers of IoT devices.