Mesh networking hits prime time
Last month’s announcement that Motorola would purchase start-up MeshNetworks is expected to bring an important component to the vendor giant’s product portfolio while providing a new level of legitimacy to mesh-networking architectures.
A nascent technology, wireless mesh networking is based on the same dynamic routing principles used in the wired Internet — if there is a point of failure in the network, the data packet is automatically routed in a different path until it reaches the destination device. Initially developed by the military, each device in the network acts as a router, increasing the resiliency and range of mobile wireless broadband networks.
Such characteristics are valued highly by government, public-safety and enterprise users performing mission-critical tasks.
Since its founding in 2000, MeshNetworks has concentrated primarily on the public-safety sector, announcing deployments of its technology in municipalities throughout the country, including Florida, Minnesota, Oregon and Texas.
Despite these successes, MeshNetworks was somewhat limited by the size of its sales force and government entities’ concerns about the risks associated with dealing with a young company, according to Rick Rotondo, MeshNetworks’ vice president of marketing. Those concerns should disappear when MeshNetworks becomes part of Motorola, which has a massive sales force and a brand that is well-known to government entities.
“Mesh networking is a relatively new technology, and you had to deal with a start-up to use it. Now, there’s going to be a higher degree of confidence,” Rotondo said. “We were already growing at a pretty good rate, but Motorola’s going to be a huge multiplier on that growth.”
Also, since emerging companies, which have dominated the mesh-networking space, target customers in markets such as public safety — which tends to be reluctant to adopt new technologies offered by relatively unproven companies — the Motorola name behind mesh networking could lend credence to the technology, said Joe Hamilla, MeshNetworks’ vice president of engineering.
“This is a significant validation, not just for MeshNetworks as a company but for mesh networking as an architecture of the future,” Hamilla said.
Juergen Stark, Motorola corporate vice president, said his company evaluated emerging companies offering mesh-networking solutions for a significant period of time before determining that MeshNetworks was “head and shoulders” better than the others and made an offer for the start-up.
“They’re the world experts,” Stark said.
Motorola and MeshNetworks officials declined to disclose any terms of the deal, but one report valued it at $200 million. The acquisition was not a surprise to industry observers; Motorola had long been an investor in MeshNetworks and announced a licensing agreement with the fledgling company in August.
Stark said the government and public-safety applications of mesh networking were the driving forces behind Motorola’s desire to make the acquisition. In addition to the more traditional broadband data applications enabled by the technology, Motorola is particularly intrigued with MeshNetworks’ “bread crumb” technology that uses triangulation to display location in areas where GPS systems are ineffective.
“The general consensus is that this is a play by Motorola to protect its place in the public-safety market,” said ABI Research analyst Dan Benjamin. “It kind of put the onus on some of the other guys to do something similar.”
But that does not mean Motorola competitors such as M/A-COM and EFJohnson necessarily will feel pressured to acquire a mesh-networking provider, according to Benjamin. These vendors may opt to forge partnerships with mesh-networking companies for economic reasons, he said.
One potential partnership targets is PacketHop, which offers a software-based product that can create mesh networks quickly at an incident scene. CEO Michael Howse said the Motorola/MeshNetworks deal is a significant development in the mesh-networking industry but noted that Mesh-Networks’ technology is not based on industry standards like his company’s solution.
“We think it’s a validation of the idea of mobile mesh networking, but we view it as confirmation that Motorola is committed to delivering proprietary equipment and stovepipe systems to the [public-safety] market,” Howse said.
Benjamin said he does not believe this characteristic is a problem with such a young technology.
“Even if you are talking about open standards, you are talking about something that is inherently proprietary,” he said.
Meanwhile, Motorola’s Stark was quick to note that the vendor giant plans to leverage MeshNetworks’ technology throughout its portfolio, not just in its public-safety applications. For example, Motorola hopes to use mesh networking in combination with ultrawideband — a wireless technology that delivers high bandwidth over a short range of 5 to 10 meters — to develop powerful broadband solutions for the consumer and enterprise markets.
“It can really be applied to any wireless technology,” Stark said. “This is a capability that will enhance wireless broadband.”
With so many potential uses for mesh networking, it’s not surprising that Motorola is “fast tracking” the deal, which is expected to close by the end of the year, Hamilla said.
At a Glance
|MESH NETWORKS||Location:||Maitland, Fla. (a suburb of Orlando)|
|History:||Four years in business|
|Sales team staff:||8|
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