As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand, the reliability, agility, and flexibility of existing network architectures are being called into question as more and more connected devices, from smartphones and laptops to autonomous vehicles and control systems, are coming into play. One of the key issues surrounding the expansion of IoT devices is whether existing networks will be able to hold up to the increasing demands placed upon them by this surge of new technologies, leading experts to consider the various other types of network architecture that could be utilized to accommodate the continuous waves of new Internet of Things devices and technologies. One of the approaches that has gained a lot of attention recently is that of mesh networking.
In order to accommodate the devices and network functions of tomorrow, both wired and wireless networks need to be agile, reliable, and flexible. With the increasing adoption of smart devices will inevitably come an enormous amount of setup and management processes. With Mesh networks, this and several other network issues can be dealt with swiftly and autonomously. There are, in fact, a number of reasons why mesh networking architectures appear to be an attractive option for anyone looking to utilize a wide spectrum of IoT devices across large areas and, in this article, we’ll be looking at what mesh networks are, how they work, and what their benefits are while also taking a look at a few instances of their use around the world.
What are Mesh Networks?
Mesh networks are method of local network topology that incorporates the use of infrastructure nodes such as network bridges, devices, and switches that connect to each other directly, dynamically, and in a non-hierarchical fashion to effectively route data to and from clients. This kind of network topology ensure no single node is dependent upon for the transferal of data, so if one node were to fail, the network can “self-heal” and reroute data using algorithms such as Shortest Path Bridging (SPB), as specified in IEEE 802.1aq standard. This enables mesh networks to be much more reliable in scenarios where connectivity is paramount and certain nodes fail or become unstable.
Mesh networks will typically relay data using one of two techniques; flooding or routing. Using the flooding approach, every incoming packet is passed on through every available outgoing connection except the one from which it arrived. Using the routing technique, data is sent towards its location by hopping along other nodes until it reaches its destination. This is when the mesh network will self-configure to ensure to allow for continuous connections and reroute data around unavailable paths. Again, this allows the network to reach a level of reliability and flexibility that is highly desirable among organizations looking to take advantage of low-power, low-data rate IoT applications.
What Are the Benefits?
Mesh networks come with a host of benefits for both small scale and much larger deployments. Wireless mesh networks are, in part driven by the expansion of the Internet of Things, becoming ever more popular and can bring even greater benefits to adopters. Reducing network setup costs is one benefit wireless mesh networks can bring as they use much fewer wires when setting up a network. Alongside this, the more nodes that are added into a mesh network the larger and faster it becomes, meaning the typical issues faced when dealing with network distance and latency are not applicable with mesh networks.
There are also the previously mentioned self-healing and self-configuring elements of mesh networks that make them so appealing. Self-healing algorithms are used within the mesh network to automatically route data along the best available connection, regardless of whether certain nodes have failed or lost signal. Mesh networks are also self-configuring in that it will automatically incorporate new nodes into the network infrastructure without any administration or setup required on the part of the network administrator. Mesh network nodes are also easy to be add and take away from a network setup and can help make local networks run more efficiently as local packets no longer have to travel to and from a central server.
Applications of Mesh Networks
Mesh networks are becoming an increasingly common network architecture among both commercial, industrial, and public sector and their adoption will likely continue and become more widespread as the Internet of Things continues to expand and affect nearly every aspect of our lives.
Latest Generation Mesh Network Radio nodes are capable to support bandwidth intensive applications such as city wide video surveillance as well as in-vehicle video surveillance while integrating IP Cameras, switches and network video recorders.
Mesh Networking is also one of the popular choices for integrating the Smart Meters in the local Neighborhood Area Network (NAN).
Next Generation Intelligent Transportation networks will require flexible roadside network infrastructure that can adapt to the communication needs. Different applications have different data rate and bandwidth requirements. While roadside/vehicle SD-WAN promises to provide flexibility to manipulate the bandwidth resources and offer fail-safe cellular network for vehicles and the road, Mesh networking could offer other benefits such as providing connectivity in challenging environments such as tunnels.
There are examples where Mesh networking enabled ad-hoc internet service. From rural Catalonia, where one of the largest mesh networks in the world provides coverage to areas ignored by the largest ISPs, to Red Hook in Brooklyn, New York, where residents and authorities used a mesh network already in the works to aid government workers and relief efforts, mesh networks will continue to play an important part in the wireless networking revolution we all know as IoT.