Cisco Leaps Into Mesh - InformationWeek

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Hardware & Infrastructure
02:20 PM

Cisco Leaps Into Mesh

Dozens of cities are using mesh networks to give residents wireless access. Now Cisco has joined the fray, with new products and two wins.

Businesses aren't the only organizations investing in wireless technologies--municipalities across the country are establishing wireless networks for employees, residents, and visitors. The technology of choice for cities is wireless mesh networks, which work well outdoors and can scale across city blocks.

The growth of municipal wireless mesh networks has attracted the attention of network-equipment market leader Cisco Systems, which launched its first mesh-network system last week, designed specifically for city and campus deployments. The products are based on technologies from Airespace, which it acquired in March.

Mesh networks are typically developed using access points and routers that often are placed high on outdoor structures such as rooftops, light posts, and power poles. Wi-Fi signals are relayed from one router to another, creating a blanket of coverage.

Cisco's access point, the Aironet 1500 Series, uses two radios to maximize data throughput, and requires a power source. Cisco plans to eventually expand its mesh network offerings with access points that can handle more than two radios, and offer products that use other technologies, such as WiMax in combination with Wi-Fi, says Ben Gibson, Cisco's director of marketing for wireless and mobility.

Dozens of cities across the United States are deploying mesh networks. Much of the business so far has gone to Tropos Networks Inc., which has outfitted cities such as Addison, Texas; Alexandria, Va.; and Jamestown, N.Y. Cisco, meanwhile, already has landed Dayton, Ohio, and Lebanon, Ore.

Dayton, Ohio, will cover all 55 square miles of the city with a mesh network next year.

Dayton, Ohio, will cover all 55 square miles of the city with a mesh network next year. The advantages include

Dayton's city commissioners plan to cover all 55 square miles and possibly neighboring counties with a Cisco wireless mesh network by the end of next year. It will provide free Wi-Fi to both residents and visitors, which will help lower-income residents get access to the Internet and might even encourage new businesses to settle in the city.

"People might see free wireless as such an advantage, they'll actually want to move to Dayton," says William Hill, the city's CIO. Another popular use of mesh networks is to give police officers and firefighters a way to communicate using wireless devices.

Creating a blanket network that serves an entire city isn't simple or cheap. Dayton city officials have determined they must put up dozens of access points in pockets of the city that have a lot of high-rise buildings, while residential areas require fewer access points, Hill says.

Cisco also is offering centralized mesh controllers that run on its Wireless Control System, which manages device configuration, security policies, and radio-frequency signal parameters, and provides traffic statistics and client-device information. That could be a particularly attractive feature for large city deployments.

"It's very easy to manage everything in a central controller as opposed to a disparate system where you would have to manage 60 access points individually," says Tom Oliver, information services manager for the city of Lebanon. The 10-square-mile city plans to offer blanket Wi-Fi coverage by January, using 60 Cisco access points.

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