Accton Technology has introduced a line of wireless LAN mesh products aimed at the business market through deals with big-name Wi-Fi players.
Today, WLANs consist of access points that communicate with clients via a radio link, but are cabled to nearby Ethernet switches or WLAN controllers. In a wireless mesh, the access points talk wirelessly to each other. That change eliminates the need for much of the cabling in conventional WLANs, so deployments are faster and less expensive.
Mesh networks include auto-discovery and auto-authentication techniques, which let the networks configure themselves. The mesh nodes also create a more reliable network because a packet can be routed around a failed wireless node. Finally, mesh WLANs can grow or scale efficiently: adding new nodes creates more paths for routing and balancing the wireless packet load.
Accton's mesh technology is, overall, similar to that offered by a flock of smaller companies, such as Strix (which opened in Europe last year) and Firetidehoping for some persecution to get the market started over here). Nortel is one of the few big companies with an outdoor mesh node (announced last year), but Cisco will introduce one soon, based on technology created by its Airespace acquisition.
Accton, as a major contract manufacturer, will offer its mesh products to a range of brand-name network equipment vendors, including its own subsidiary SMC Networks. Accton access points are also sold by Dell, Belkin, Nortel, Foundry Networks and others.
These vendors in turn will target large companies and small to mid-size businesses, touting the benefits of a mesh in simplifying WLAN deployment and operations.
Accton's mesh capability, dubbed Wireless Intelligent Transport Network (WITnet), will appear first in an indoor mesh node, shipping in August, and in an outdoor node later this year. Both products will incorporate two standard radios, one for 802.11a, and one for 802.11g/b wireless connectivity. The nodes can be set up to use either radio for connecting with local WLAN clients, or with neighboring nodes to create a wireless backhaul that eliminates the need for Cat 5 cables.
The WITnet architecture is the fruit of two years of work, on which Accton has filed for three patents, relating to security, routing and traffic engineering, according to Ted Kuo, the company's vice president for advanced development.
Accton's mesh announcement comes on the eve of the next development in the IEEE 802.11s task group, which is charged with hammering out a standard for WLAN mesh. Accton has been actively involved in the group since its launch in early 2004, Kuo says. The group has issued a call for proposals with a mid-June deadline.
"The original 802.11 standard only defined how a client 'station' talked to a [wireless] access point, not how the access points could talk with each other over the air," Kuo says. "The 11s standard will address this: Access points will become interconnected, without depending on the wired net."
Accton didn't release pricing details, but says final WLAN mesh products sold by a brand-name vendor could be up to 50 percent more expensive than comparable, conventional, dual-radio access points.