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8/25/2005
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Whiz-Bang Wireless At The Scene Of A Crime

New mesh-networking software from PacketHop lets police and first responders use their mobile devices to set up wireless networks that don't require Wi-Fi access points or routers.

Every minute counts when police officers and first responders are caught in a dangerous situation that requires teamwork and fast communication. And increasingly, they're being equipped with laptops, pocket PCs, and PDAs that let them communicate wirelessly. But they can't always use these systems, since Wi-Fi access points or other wireless infrastructures aren't necessarily available at the scene of an incident.

A company called PacketHop Inc. is looking to address this problem for police and emergency personnel by allowing them to use their mobile devices to create a wireless network that doesn't require access points or routers.

PacketHop's Communication System, introduced this week, includes its TrueMesh mobile mesh networking software and a suite of multimedia applications. The system works with any Wi-Fi-enabled devices. "Users basically have an ecosystem to choose from," says Michael Howse, PacketHop's president and CEO.

The software, however, has to be loaded onto every device for the system to work among a team of users. Once it's loaded, users can send, receive, and route data between the devices using the mesh network. However, they do need wireless access points to get data outside of the network.

The concept could be especially useful for law-enforcements agencies that need to set up a network around an incident scene. They can use the suite of multimedia applications to instant message each other, send photos of suspects, whiteboard on the photos, and stream video if they have cameras connected to their mobile devices. Additionally, they can locate and track different law-enforcement units that are part of the network on electronic maps.

The idea behind wireless mesh networking is to extend the reach of a Wi-Fi signal by relaying it from one active device to another. Other vendors offering mesh networking systems include BelAir Networks, RoamAD, and Tropos Networks. But what makes PacketHop's system unique is that it doesn't require access points or wireless routers to work, says Will Strauss, principal analyst at market research firm Forward Concepts. Instead, the mobile devices form the network.

One of the drawbacks of using access points in a wireless mesh network is reduced bandwidth, Strauss says. Every time the transmission is extended, the Wi-Fi signal gets weaker. But PacketHop's system allows an unlimited number of users to be added to the network. The more users that are added, the stronger the signal becomes because of redundancy, Howse says.

PacketHop plans to extend its mobile mesh-networking software beyond public safety and government organizations to businesses and consumers.

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