See Mesh? SEEMesh Proposed

The IEEE 802.11 Working Group meeting in San Francisco continues this week, and news comes that in addition to the proposal to the Task Group S (TGs) for mesh networking from the recently formed Wi-Mesh Alliance, competition has come in the form of another consortium of companies. This one is backed by a series of big names including Intel, Nokia, Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, and Texas Instruments.

Dubbed SEEMesh—short for Simple, Efficient and Extensible Mesh—the group is not talking about details of the proposal: requests from Intel and TI went unanswered today.

The complete proposal for a mesh networking standard, to be called 802.11s, from SEEMesh will undoubtedly clash with that reported on earlier this week from the Wi-Mesh Alliance, a group backed by Nortel Networks. ComputerWorld reports that there are 15 proposals for the standard, a mix of complete (covering all aspects of how it will work) and partial (covering just a few aspects of a possible standard—these are usually combined with complete proposals during the standard’s approval process, through compromises and deals).

Despite what many see as a need for an interoperable standard for Wi-Fi mesh networking between vendors, not all companies in the space have signed on. The arguably biggest names, at least in the metropolitan-area mesh network space, BelAir Networks, Tropos Networks, and Strix Systems, are not part of any of the groups making proposals.

Strix and BelAir both have said that they feel the 11s specification will probably not even cover outdoor mesh networks. Phil Belanger, vice president of marketing at BelAir, said earlier this week, “We realized early after seeing the initial 802.11s proposals that our multiple radio approach was not going to be covered by 802.11s. We decided that it is not necessary to push the group to embrace that.” However, the company is committed to supporting 802.11s in its recently-announced single radio products when the standard is ready.

Some question whether a standard for mesh networking is even needed. Jim Aimone, who works in business development and engineering for a service provider and also as president of consulting firm Integr8 Ltd., says that existing mesh products are doing fine, and that “We do not need any new standards here because these [products] are well established and incredibly flexible.”

What about interoperability between multiple vendors? “I do not foresee a case where more than one vendor’s nodes are deployed in any network,” says Aimone, clarifying that this opinion is covering metro-sized networks run by a service provider.

Aimone is also afraid that the 11s group will get bogged down with arguments such as those that delayed the high-speed 802.11n proposal to this point (the consortiums involved have since partnered, and indeed this week asked for an extension to make a proper joint proposal) or the type that killed the standards process for 802.15.3a/ultrawideband altogether.

So far, the vendors remain optimistic that the 802.11s proposal process will be bloodless.

“802.11s is not nearly as contentious, and also it is not as central to the whole industry as 802.11n… [it’s] not surprising there were bitter rivals fighting for different approaches,” said Belanger on Tuesday.

However, he also added, “I doubt there will be a competing consortium on mesh.”

Let’s hope that’s all he’s wrong about.

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