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Mesh networking is an emerging technology that is poised to change the world of communications.

mesh networking
                             Google Wi-Fi

Definition

In an ordinary wireless network, a wireless router connected to a modem and the router emits the signal for devices to grab. If the signal doesn’t travel far enough an extender, also called a repeater, is used to take the existing signal from the router and rebroadcast it. Only the router distributes the data in the network.

A mesh network is very different. It has multiple nodes which are quite small. A typical node in a home network is anywhere from the size of a very large hockey puck to several inches wide and tall. In commercial settings, nodes can be even smaller.

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In a mesh network each node relays data for the network and participates in the distribution of data in the network. These can be used in either a wired or wireless network, but they are commonly used for wireless communications. The network connection is spread out among all of the wireless mesh nodes. These nodes do not just transmit the data, they communicate with each other. Hundreds of nodes can share the network connection. This means that they can more easily cover a much larger area than traditional networks that rely on wireless routers, wired access points or wireless hotspots.

Techniques

Mesh notes are small radio transmitters that function similar to wireless routers. The notes use common Wi-Fi standards like 802.11a, b.

There are two common types of mesh networks. They can relay messages using either a flooding technique or a routing technique. Flooding sends the signal to all nodes. Routing sends the message along a path by hopping from node to node until it reaches its destination. Nodes are programmed with software that tells them how to interact within the larger network.

A methodology called dynamic routing helps nodes to automatically choose the quickest and safest path for the data. Each node contains “self-healing” software. In large networks there is often more than one path available. This combination makes the routing technique quite reliable.

Advantages

The biggest advantage to mesh networking is that the nodes are small and can be truly wireless. Only one node needs to be attached to the modem that transmits the internet signal. Other nodes only need a power supply. This can be a traditional AC plug or wireless solutions like batteries or solar panels.

Most homes and small offices can place the nodes in problem areas and this can usually be near an AC outlet. Larger implementations can use the aforementioned batteries or solar panels. Special weatherproof shields can be used for outdoor situations. The small size of each node allows them to be mounted anywhere including telephone poles, roofs, overhangs, and other exterior areas. This allows for the easy connection of entire communities and even entire cities.

Mesh networking also has the advantage of strong signal strengths. As you reduce the distance between your device and the nearest wireless node, the strength becomes stronger.

Nodes can also usually provide internet connectivity to wired devices within a network. Most nodes come with Ethernet ports. They can often even use Power Over Ethernet (PoEto provide power to stand-alone devices.

Current manufacturers of home mesh networks include: Linksys Velop, Netgear Orbi, Google Wi-Fi, Amped Ally, and Eero. The Google mesh network nodes can also be added on to their unique Google OnHub Router which we recently reviewed.

Backhaul

In every network information needs to return to the wired access point to reach the general internet. This is called backhaul. Small wireless mesh networks handle backhaul without any special hardware modifications. In very large mesh networks, certain nodes are specified as backhaul nodes. This speeds the process.

Home Applications

Mesh networks are becoming more and more popular for homes and businesses. They provide coverage and strength for larger homes which are difficult to cover with traditional networks.  Mesh networks also provide easy coverage for homes with multiple floors or structural impediments like metal and concrete substructures. Manufacturers are providing nodes that are good-looking and that blend in with the home environment.

mesh networking
Linksys Velop Mesh

Ease of Use

Mesh networks are extremely easy to set up and use. You don’t even need a computer to set them up. Just pull out your smartphone. These networks typically come with a free app that walks you through the installation process. The app even tells you where to place each node for maximum coverage. Most can automatically set the Wi-Fi channel and radio band for optimum use.

You can managing the network easily with a smartphone. You can see all network devices. There are no complicated network commands to deal with. In most situations you can even give your chosen devices network priority with the press of a button or wave of the hand.

Other applications
The applications for mesh networks are almost limitless. Cities and municipalities can use them for all-over coverage. Isolated locations and developing countries can use them. Mesh networks can handle massive amounts of data. That means that colleges, hospitals, and the hotel industry can all greatly benefit from mesh networks. Networks can be setup quickly and easily so they can also be used for temporary venues like outdoor concerts and rallies. We are sure to see more and more mesh networks in the near future.

Sandy Berger, respected computer authority, journalist, media guest, speaker, and author, has more than three decades of experience as a computer and technology expert. Her eight books include: How to Have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Computer, Your Official Grown-up’s Guide to AOL and the Internet, Cyber Savers –Tips & Tricks for Today’s Drowning Computer Users, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Better Living through Technology, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to the Internet, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Gadgets & Gizmos, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Health & Wellness, and Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Travel. Sandy’s newspaper column, magazine articles, feature stories, product reviews, and computer tips can be found at her website, Compu-KISS.