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MSOs Explore Mesh Networking Models

In a recent study, ABI Research pointed out that while North American cable MSOs had shown no immediate interest in deploying mesh networks, several of them were quietly investing in mesh technology firms.

Now one mesh vendor, BelAir Networks, has announced the formation of a technical advisory board comprised of cable companies, aimed at obtaining more input from the cable industry that would help it to incorporate MSOs' input into its product development plans. According to ABI Research senior analyst of wireless connectivity research, Sam Lucero, "BelAir's move serves further to underscore that cable MSOs could become a very significant component in mesh networking in North America."

"It's still early days for mesh, particularly when it comes to cable MSO involvement," Lucero adds, "but there are good reasons for MSOs to get involved. We have seen indications that MSO trials are under way, and real deployments may begin sometime in the next 12 to 18 months."

In Europe, a different picture is emerging. Underlying conditions in Western Europe (relatively easier access for competitive service providers to incumbents' networks and more advanced 3G deployments) do not bode as well for mesh networking in the region, compared to North America or Asia-Pacific. But there have been some interesting developments lately, which are quite different from those in North America or Asia-Pacific.

US-based equipment vendor Firetide, together with wireless switch vendor and VoIP specialist Meru Networks, will work with Spanish wireless hotspot operator AWA to extend Wi-Fi hotspot coverage by means of additional mesh networks. And in the UK, a hotspot provider called The Cloud has announced that it will collaborate with Tropos, to use mesh networks to extend the range of hotspots in the UK and on the continent.

"It's not quite the same as the metropolitan mesh networks that are developing in the United States," says Lucero. There's no attempt to blanket an entire urban area. Rather, they're using mesh technology to expand the coverage area in specific locations: hotels, cafes, service stations, and limited downtown "hotzones." "While more of a 'campus-scale' effort," he advises, "it is a valid and cost-effective model, and with thousands of hotspots around the EU, it could be a significant opportunity."

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