All mesh networking is not created equal

     Everyone in law enforcement understands mobile data and the value of having access to mission-critical information in the field. While there have been several mobile data advancements the past decade, few have created as much buzz in the...


     Everyone in law enforcement understands mobile data and the value of having access to mission-critical information in the field. While there have been several mobile data advancements the past decade, few have created as much buzz in the industry or held as much promise as mesh networking.

     That being said, many do not have a clear understanding of mesh networking and its true value to public safety.

     The best place to start is with a basic definition of mesh networking. In its simplest form, mesh networking is a wireless communications technology that allows each radio to function as a router, meaning data can be sent to or through any other radio in the network in order to reach the intended destination. In other words, radios communicate on a peer-to-peer level. This results in adaptive, flexible connections among users that would not be possible with traditional communication technologies.

     The "mesh" in mesh networking both refers to the overall shape of the network's communication paths as well as to its decentralized nature. The latter is really the key to mesh networking's distinctive performance characteristics and why mesh networking solutions are so important for public safety applications.

     Unlike other mobile data solutions that resemble a hub-and-spoke or cellular architecture, mesh networks do not rely on centralized controllers to guide network traffic. The mobile clients in these traditional wireless solutions are highly dependent on stationary infrastructure to keep them operational. If a controller fails, the entire system is compromised. Remove the hub, and the spokes are meaningless. In the arena of public safety, that type of failure spells disaster. These liabilities with traditional communications have driven many to adopt mesh networks for mobile data access.

     With mesh networking, the system is not limited by a single point of failure. Even if an individual radio, or node, in the network fails, the network remains operational. The network is, quite literally, ad hoc because it can instantly reform or "heal" itself. Mobile mesh networks, or "mobile ad hoc networks," have extraordinary flexibility and adaptive capabilities, and trace their history to late 1970s military communications applications that required the utmost in mobility and reliability.

     Current mobile mesh networking solutions have retained the peer-to-peer and "on the fly" nature that was characteristic of earlier generations. They have the ability to organically reform based on conditions in the field, whether that means a node drops out temporarily or permanently, or the network topology changes.

The differences in mesh

     There are, in fact, vast differences within the mesh networking product landscape. The tendency for some is to take certain known qualities and limitations of popular mesh networking solutions and apply those to the entire product category. It's like painting with a broad stroke when more detail is required.

     There are mesh networks and then there are mobile mesh networks. Solutions that are considered mobile mesh networks offer peer-to-peer communications at the client (vehicle) level, meaning each client radio in the field is a node in the mesh network. Fixed mesh networks in public safety feature mesh on the infrastructure side of the network, meaning the radio towers are meshed together but the clients are not.

     Of course, there are innumerous variations to these two general categories including some hybrids of both. Generally speaking though, mobile mesh networks offer some decided advantages including ad hoc radio coverage extension and greater network survivability. If infrastructure is damaged, destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperable, data communications can continue in mobile mesh networks.

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