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The Rewards And Perils Of Meshing With Wi-Fi

Promise: Wi-Fi APs act as self-configuring routers, creating multihop meshes that find their way around radio interference, physical obstructions, and network congestion. Architecture is automated, Ethernet eliminated.

Players: Four start-ups have shipping products: Tropos and BelAir specialize in outdoor meshes, while Strix and Firetide also make indoor systems. Interoperability will have to wait for 802.11s, a standard unlikely to reach shipping products until 2009.

Prospects: The start-ups have already proven that wireless meshes are cheaper, more flexible, and less vulnerable to outages than LAN cables or T1 services. But all use proprietary technology, and their bandwidth will never scale to gigabit applications.

Wireless mesh networks have been a popular idea for years. Visionaries talk about "smart dust"--tiny radios that organize themselves into networks as needed, bypassing service providers and eliminating the need for wires of any kind. New technologies such as ZigBee aim to extend the range of very-low-power networks by making every network node act as a router.

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