Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It's the architecture, stupid!

So now the early returns are in on Google's wireless mesh network dry run in Mountain View, and they are not good.

As the founder and CTO of a company that makes wireless mesh networking equipment, you might think this would distress me. On the contrary, I am delighted. The reason is simple -- wireless mesh municipal networks are finally growing up. And as they do, the expectations change, from "Gee isn't it neat that we can surf in the park" to "Hey, I really expected this to be a replacement for DSL and it sucks!".

The problem isn't wireless mesh, it's the architecture Google chose for the Mountain View network. First-generation wireless mesh networks use one radio for both client service and the backhaul (node-to-node) connections. These networks work great when there is little or no traffic. But they fall apart when activity grows.

Google could have known this would happen. Similar networks failed in similar ways in Chaska, Minnesota and elsewhere. My own company's products are now being deployed in many locations where earlier-generation products, like the one Google chose, were tried and failed. This is exactly analogous to what happened when LAN Hubs were replaced by LAN Switches. It's the architecture, stupid!

As I said, I think this is terrific news. Our industry is discovering that one can't just throw any mesh product out there and have it work. First-generation products fail because of the contention inherent in their architecture. They are doomed to crash when network loads increase. As they ALWAYS WILL.

By contrast, third-generation products use multiple physical- or logical radios, separating client service from backhaul connections. They scale well and can support demanding data, video, and voice applications 50 to 1000 times better than first-generation technologies.

Google has been said to be using Mountain View as a test bed for a future major wireless mesh deployment in San Francisco. So this is a valuable lesson learned. When it comes time for the San Francisco deployment (or to fix what ails Mountain View), hopefully Google will take advantage of the latest architecture to avoid disappointing users, advertisers, and city officials.

Francis daCosta


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