Motorola has agreed to buy MeshNetworks, a developer of rapidly deployed, self-creating wireless mobile networks.
The financial terms of the deal, which is expected to close by the end of this year, were not disclosed. Motorola already licenses software and distributes products from the privately owned company.
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. Motorola said potential uses included emergency services, wireless data, home entertainment and cellular networks.
"We're looking to use this technology broadly across all our businesses," said Kelly Mark, director of business development at Motorola.
Rick Rotondo, vice-president of technical marketing at MeshNetworks, said mesh technology overcame the distance limitations of wireless networks by using a series of clients or access points as repeaters. If a radio's data-carrying capacity falls off beyond a short distance, the network can send signals further 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," said Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias. The technology can be applied to many different types of wireless networks layered on top of the particular radio standard in use, although many hops in a network can introduce delays that can degrade the quality of real-time traffic such as voice.
MeshNetworks makes communications systems with a proprietary technology called QDMA, primarily for emergency services and municipal networks. Rotondo said that QDMA could send and receive data in vehicles travelling up to 200 miles an hour, compared with about 30 miles an hour for Wi-Fi, which operates in the same 2.4GHz radio spectrum.
QDMA range can vary with terrain but is generally between a 10th of a mile and one mile. Rotondo said the technology allowed teams to set up peer-to-peer networks on the fly, and cited the example of firefighters responding to a fire outside the coverage area of an emergency services wireless network.
The company also sells a chip for QDMA as well as software that could add mesh capabilities to standard Wi-Fi products.
Motorola's Mark said mesh technology had slashed the cost of metropolitan-scale wireless data networks in a current application by eliminating the need for a wired backhaul (generally a digital subscriber line or leased T-1) at every access point - one of the biggest costs of a wireless hotspot. With a mesh, data can travel through many access points to a handful with wired connections.
Mathias said this could be an ideal way to deploy Wi-Fi across a metropolitan area. Rather than having to invest in a DSL connection or T-1 approximately every 300 feet just to provide Wi-Fi coverage, a service provider could buy just a few wired connections and add in more as customers joined and usage grew.
The technology could play a similar role in cellular networks. Mobile operators have approached MeshNetworks about providing wireless backhaul from base stations, according to Rotondo.
Mark said mesh could also help short-range, high-bandwidth ultrawideband technology span a large home. A mesh of ultrawideband radios could create connectivity around the home to deliver entertainment content.
Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service