With the rapid rise of wireless local-area networks (WLANs) and public hot spots, wireless mesh networks are rapidly gaining popularity. And, for the right reasons. Improved public safety, enhanced first responder readiness, and better community services are amongst other reasons for the emergence of wireless meshes.

Last year, Motorola unveiled the MOTOMESH, its third-generation mesh system that provides fixed and mobile broadband access in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band, as well as in the new licensed 4.9 GHz public safety band. A multiradio broadband solution of up to four radio networks in a single access point, it offers a flexible and scalable wireless solution to cities of all sizes. Toward that goal, this month, Motorola announced that the city of Plano, Texas will deploy MOTOMESH and Canopy backhaul solutions to create a mobility corridor for seamless wireless broadband access across the city. Plano hopes to improve the service to the community by offering secure connectivity to public safety and municipal personnel.

The hot spots are being installed to seed the network in this first phase of deployment and are located around public safety and municipal buildings, such as police and fire stations, libraries, city hall and court buildings. In phase two of the deployment, the network will be expanded into a seamless wireless broadband cloud creating a wireless mobility corridor.

According to Motorola, its mesh network solution is currently being deployed in more than a dozen municipalities across the country. In fact, Wake County, North Carolina was the first to deploy it late last year, followed by Riviera Beach, Florida this year.Initially, the deployment in Plano will be used for law enforcement communications. Future expansion plans include broader connectivity for public safety and first responders, such as fire officials and paramedics.

Likewise, Cellnet Technology in cooperation with Cisco Systems, is offering outdoor mesh technology for a WiFi initiative called Mad City Broadband undertaken by the city of Madison, Wisconsin. Cellnet will build and manage a WiFi network to serve the city's growing population of wireless users in the consumer, academic, commercial and government sectors. In addition, the city plans to use the network for public safety and public works applications, such as meter reading, police communications, and tracking city garbage and recycling vehicles. The mayor of Madison believes that mesh network will open up new opportunities for local businesses, improve public safety and city works operations, and enhance the Internet experience for citizens, visitors and students in Madison. The first phase of the deployment, scheduled for completion this month, will comprise 150 access points and cover a 10-mile radius from the capitol building in the city center. To simplify management and centralize network control, Cellnet is using Cisco WLAN controllers and wireless control system to manage Cisco Aironet access points, which are attached to streetlights and utility poles.

According to market research firm ABI Research, broadband services that use wireless mesh infrastructure are already active in many smaller communities, such as Chaska, Minnesota and Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Bigger cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco are in the pipeline for deployment. In 2005, according to a report published by ABI Research, municipal WiFi networks covered only about 1,500 square miles worldwide. By 2010, that figure is expected to increase to 126,000 square miles, an area slightly larger than the U.S. state of New Mexico. The bulk of these deployments will take place in North America and the Asia-Pacific region. To serve those networks, more than one million wireless mesh routers will be shipped in 2010.

But the mesh network products coming to market from more than half a dozen companies are not interoperable. Many fear that this will lead to fragmentation. Consequently, the IEEE 802.11 TGs is developing 802.11s, a standard that promises scalable, fault-tolerant, and easily deployable mesh-network infrastructure based on 802.11 technologies. In essence, it promises to provide a seamless WLAN network regardless of the equipment used. By drafting WLAN medium access control (MAC) and physical layer (PHY) specifications, the IEEE 802.11 Working Group has crossed a major milestone in the development of IEEE 802.11s. However, final ratification is not expected before 2008.