Friday, June 24, 2005

Wireless Sensor Networks – Mesh Networking Coming to Reality

Mesh Networks are moving out of the emergence category into reality. The key drivers are the falling prices of wireless Ethernet radios, rising need for reconfigurability of the network, and improving power management technology. Mesh networking offers multi-point to multi-point connectivity of the nodes. Point to point networking is quite easy. It’s the transition to many to many networking that proves to be a challenge.

This past week I had the opportunity to talk with a number of wireless sensor network companies. Zigbee is the key technology driving many of the wireless sensor network companies. With over 150 members the Zigbee Alliance is initially targeting industrial automation in addition to home control and building automation.

Building Automation is one area that receives a great deal of attention from wireless sensor companies. The benefits of wireless and low-cost, low-power nodes make for a compelling application. This site discusses the move to generate compatibility between Zigbee and Lonworks.

One of the companies I visited, Airbee makes wireless network software and implements Zigbee at the Mac Layer compatible with the 802.15.4 PAN standards. While Zigbee provides the basic framework for mesh networking, customers may want more configuration and development tools. Airbee is positioning itself to supply these tools.

Cool-sounding application scenarios abound – as they usually do with emerging technologies. One application making the rounds is a scenario in which a security force surrounds a building, and fires bullets embedded with wireless sensor nodes into the building. The nodes then wake up, create a network and start monitoring activity. Most real-world applications are in the sub 50 node range with the exception of meter reading which can scale to over a 1000 nodes, or specialized government applications.

If you are working with wireless sensor network technologies, I would like to hear from you. Please email me at hall.martin@ni.com.
Best regards,
Hall T. Martin

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