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The Growing Prevalence of Wi-Fi Extension with Mesh

April 21st, 2014

Industry professionals have tended to view mesh networking from a “realist” point-of-view as a niche solution to be avoided if possible, and have never considered the technology the most popular of Wi-Fi capabilities. This pragmatism is rooted in the typical negative performance implications of mesh networks. Just a few years ago mesh capability was limited to a few highly targeted products that served niche markets for large-scale outdoor deployments or service provider environments. These solutions typically relied on multi-radio mesh units, which provide frequency separation between uplink and downlink traffic paths as well as between upstream and downstream hops, in an attempt reduce the negative performance impact for high bandwidth backhaul links.

AirTight-Mesh

However, there exists a growing market for mesh networking that utilizes single-radio mesh units to provide an extension of network access across limited mesh hops for hard to wire locations.

This is evidenced by the prevalence of single-radio mesh within enterprise wireless manufacturer equipment. Mesh extension capabilities are found in almost every enterprise wireless manufacturer product line and are targeted at a much broader audience ranging from SMB, mid-market, distributed enterprise, to large enterprise. While single-radio mesh units cannot provide the same high-bandwidth performance across multiple hops for backhaul traffic links that multi-radio mesh units can achieve, these products excel for networking deployments with mesh extension. They do so by offering integrated mesh capabilities from the same manufacturer, and often on the same AP hardware platforms, that customers use for their more prevalent Wi-Fi access networks. This allows for unified product procurement, network management, hardware re-use, and vendor support. Single-radio mesh also excels due to lower product cost compared to multi-radio mesh, and are targeted at situations where the focus is on network access and service extension for lower bandwidth use-cases.

Let’s take a look at a few of these use-cases:

Quick service restaurants (QSR) are leveraging  mesh to extend Wi-Fi coverage from the back-office areas into the public areas. Mesh networking allows the central IT teams to deploy new services quickly to the public facing areas of a large distributed number of locations or franchises without incurring large deployment costs by eliminating the requirement for a truck-roll; store employees are able to simply and easily deploy the AP without pulling additional cabling. This allows QSRs to take advantage of new guest Wi-Fi services for Internet access, promotional offers, brand loyalty sign-up, and analytics quickly and without hassle. Some QSRs are also leveraging mesh for outdoor drive-up lanes to increase efficiency of sales transactions and increase order throughput during peak times.

Grocery and supermarket stores are another interesting use-case with seasonal “pop-up” garden centers. The temporary nature of these retail spaces, often located in parking lot space, makes deployment of point-of-sale, inventory tracking, and guest services difficult and costly to deploy. Mesh extension is a simple and cost-effective solution that can enable employees to work more productively, eliminating the time-consuming process of walking inside to perform various tasks or to communicate with indoor personnel. Through the use of handheld barcode scanners, mobile point of sale (mPOS), and even mobile VoIP or push-to-talk devices, employees can use the same processes they use inside the main store outside as well while maintaining a highly secure environment and PCI compliance.

Hotels, casinos, resorts and other hospitality facilities can deploy mesh networks to extend services to outdoor seating and entertainment areas, such as patios, swimming pools, and outdoor bars. This enables availability to a wide range of guest services, such as tourism research, room service, food and beverage ordering, and concierge services.

AirTight introduced single-radio mesh networking capability with release 6.8. Simple to configure, yet completely secure mesh mode operation supports automatic routing and re-routing, automatic load distribution, multiple VLAN support and multiple overlapping mesh networks. Customers can cost-effectively and easily deploy Wi-Fi access, security, and services to new locations to extend coverage for employees and guests. Configuration and deployment is quick for one or numerous locations with our hierarchical and location-aware management console; simply add a mesh SSID into an existing or new device template. The template can be the default template for APs at one or more folders in the location tree, or you can assign the template to only a sub-set of APs that should have mesh networking enabled.

Mesh networking is proving to be more prevalent than you might expect, and a pragmatic approach in more use-cases than ever before. Its performance will never rival that of a wired Ethernet AP, but ultimate throughput and performance are not always the main objectives. But for those instances where cabling or cost become an issue, it’s nice to have integrated mesh capabilities in your arsenal from the same manufacturer you’re already doing business with. Your Procurement or Accounts Payable team will thank you.

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Andrew vonNagy

Andrew vonNagy is a recognized wireless LAN networking expert with over 12 years of experience in the education and retail industries. He has achieved two of the industry’s highest certifications, CCIE #28298 (Cisco Systems) and CWNE #84 (CWNP).

Wireless mesh

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