One of the most incredible technology demonstrations I ever picked for Demo was of 802.11 ad hoc mesh networking. The Demonstrator was SRI in Menlo Park and the technology had been developed for the USMC as part of their urban warfare technology.
When the technology was described to me months in advance of Dem, all the cosmic gears, sprockets and drive elements went “click” and I instantly understood that the technology could have far-reaching implications beyond the Marines and their need to keep data and other networks up and running under the most adverse of conditions.
SRI’s demonstration caught the attention of venture investors, entrepreneurs and press. Everyone who saw it immediately understood what it meant to see a network expand with the simple addition of another portable computer equipped with the right software and hardware. The audience also understood the meaning of a “dead node” in a combat 802.11 network.
SRI’s technology is still very fresh in my mind, long after it was unveiled at Demo. As a result of the that demo, I went on to pick several other mesh networking companies, notably Sky Pilot Networks, now a mesh hardware supplier, but which was originally chartered to be a public networking supplier.
Two ther companies in this space that deserve watching are Firetide Networks (pick by Chis Shipey to launch at Demo 2003) and Packet Networks ( a co-founder of which is the former SRI researcher credited with pioneering mesh networks).
Instant wireless networking (another name for 802.11 mesh networks) has scored a number of impressive wins since it was unveiled six years ago. It’s now used extensively by the Department of Defense, emergency services agencies and municipalities to increase the flow of information in a variety of circumstances.
Firetide is one example of how instant wireless networking suppliers have been able to quickly capitalize on the growth of wireless networking. Since its founding in 2003, it has gone on to create a partner network that specializes in installing instant user-configurable wireless networks for anyone that wants to deploy wireless VOIP, video surveillance and high speed internet connectivity. Meru Networks, Netgear, AirPath Wireless and Pronto Networks.
Packet Networks has been equally successful in the public sector.
Mesh networking is an important is also a part of educational computing where college level instructors are using it to create instant networks that are used for field work. One of the most unusual instant networks was highlighted recently in the blog of HP’s educational computing evangelist, Jim Vanides. One of Vanides more unusual posts here, concerns an enterprising geology professor who organizes multi car caravans that take students on field tours for a geology class. The far-thinking professor has built a power point deck that outlines the geologic features the students see as they whiz along at 60 or more miles an hour. The students sre using tablet PCs equipped with wireless adapters and mesh networking software. Presumably, the professor is controlling the display of PowerPoint slides from a passenger seat somewhere along the rolling classroom. I can only hope that student drivers aren’t glued to the slides on their notebooks and talking on their cell phones while they drive.
Instant mesh networking, it’s a technology that can transform educational and all other categories of porftable computing.—Jim Forbes, wirelessly from my palm fronded outside office on a small mountaintop in rural San Diego County on 09/04/2007. Woops, I guesss that was a small earthquake offshore. Fins up!
(mandatory disclosure: Prior to retiring after a stroke kicked my butt in the hours before I was to have opened a Demo show, I produced DemoMobile, worked with Chris Shipley on Demo and wrote the printed and online versions of the DemoLetter and DemoMobile Letter.).