Motorola has agreed to buy MeshNetworks, a developer of technology and products for rapidly deployed, self-creating wireless mobile networks.
Motorola already licenses software and distributes products from the privately-held Mesh as its Motorola Ventures investment arm invests in the company. Financial terms of the deal, which is expected to close by the end of this year, were not disclosed.
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 hot spots. The technology has potential applications ranging from enterprises to home entertainment, for delivering data, video, voice and location information, Motorola said in a statement.
"We're looking to use this technology broadly across all our businesses," said Kelly Mark, director of business development at Motorola. Potential uses for mesh technology include public safety, wireless data, home entertainment and cellular networks, he said.
Mesh technology overcomes the distance limitations of wireless networks by using a series of clients or access points as repeaters, said Rick Rotondo, vice president of technical marketing at MeshNetworks. If a radio's data-carrying capacity falls off beyond a short distance, the network can send signals over greater distances 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 industry analyst Craig Mathias, founder of Farpoint Group. The technology can be applied to many different types of wireless networks layered on top of the particular radio standard in use, he said. One limitation of mesh networks is that using many hops in a network can introduce delays that can degrade the quality of real-time traffic such as voice, Mathias said.
MeshNetworks makes communications systems with a proprietary technology called QDMA (Quadrature Division Multiple Access), primarily for public safety and municipal networks. Though it can operate in the same radio spectrum as Wi-Fi, around 2.4GHz, QDMA can send and receive data in vehicles traveling up to 200 miles per hour, compared with about 30 miles per hour for Wi-Fi, Rotondo said. Its range can vary with terrain but is generally between one-tenth of a mile and one mile. With this technology, teams can set up peer-to-peer networks on the fly, he said, giving the example of firefighters who have to respond to a fire outside the coverage area of a public safety wireless network.
The company also sells a chip for QDMA as well as software that could add mesh capabilities to standard Wi-Fi products, Rotondo added.
In a current application, mesh technology can slash the cost of metropolitan-scale wireless data networks, according to Motorola's Mark. It does this 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 that have wired connections, he said.
This could be an ideal way to deploy Wi-Fi across a metropolitan area, Mathias said. 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, he said.
The technology might play a similar role in cellular networks. Mobile operators have approached MeshNetworks about providing wireless backhaul from base stations, according to Rotondo.
Mesh could also help short-range, high-bandwidth UWB (ultrawideband) technology span a large home, Motorola's Mark said. A mesh of UWB radios could create connectivity around the home to deliver entertainment content, he said.