People living in remote areas and small businesses operating in rural neighborhoods complain that they've missed out on the Internet revolution because service providers won't run high-speed links to their locations. Microsoft Research is working to develop technology that will make it easier and cheaper to provide those users with faster Internet connections. Last week, Microsoft unveiled partnerships with seven universities to develop Mesh Connectivity Layer technology.
The goal is to create a wireless mesh network among users who can then share a single, high-speed Net connection. Victor Bahl, senior researcher at Microsoft's networking research group, says a company or a person could decide to invest $800 per month to lease a T-1 line "and connect the remote neighborhood for a fee."
Mesh Connectivity Layer is a loadable Microsoft Windows driver that lets computers communicate via a wireless mesh network using Wi-Fi or WiMax services, tricking the computer into thinking it's directly connected to an Internet connection. The software creates a virtual network adapter that looks like a regular network connection to the computer, and uses an Internet Engineering Task Force protocol called Link Quality Source Routing to route data among computers in the neighborhood.
Once the driver is part of Windows, it will help to create a wireless mesh network in which every computer in the neighborhood helps to route data to the T-1 line or satellite link that's used to connect to the Internet. The infrastructure needed to make mesh connectivity in remote places a reality is starting to take shape, said Rick Rashid, senior VP at Microsoft Research, in a speech at a conference that the MobiSys Group held last week. The price of small, simple satellite connectivity devices has dropped to around $3,500, making it feasible to set up a satellite link and connect it to a wireless mesh network in areas that don't have Internet access, he said.
Mesh Connectivity Layer will let neighbors forward one another's data packets across shared gateways distributed around a neighborhood until the data arrives at an Internet connection, whether it's a satellite link or a T-1 line. But Microsoft says work still needs to be done in areas such as capacity, range, privacy, security, and multipath routing before the offering is ready for market. And, Bahl says, the Mesh Connectivity Layer network "must be able to manage itself."