By Max Clarke, Mesh Networks
Every generation sees its share of innovations that completely change the way we approach technology. Telephones made communication instantaneous and easy, as the internet did a century later for information and interactivity.
Both of these inventions have since paved the way for countless other developments that we take for granted now, so ingrained in our lives that to live without them would be strange.
The concept that single devices can connect to each other directly is not new, after all Bluetooth has existed in mobile phones since 2001. But mesh works are undergoing a revolution. They work with the concept of connecting devices via an app or SDK that integrates with Bluetooth and peer-to-peer wifi functionality that are built into every smartphone and tablet.
Applied to a full scale network of devices this brings everyone nearby onto the same network regardless of their device. Everyone can connect with each other without the need to go through a cellular network or wifi.
These networks are also decentralised, meaning that a server going offline far away will not affect how you connect. If you lose connection to another person, it’s only one strand of a large web that can intelligently reform again. The mesh is self-forming and self-healing. There is no need to sign in or out. As you come into range, if you have the app/SDK then you will automatically join the mesh.
By operating like this, a user doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to the internet or a mobile network to exchange and receive data. You might often find that crowded spaces band width issues make it impossible to get a reliable connection to Wi-Fi, but a mesh network thrives in these situations, making use of its many available connections to reliably route data between people.
A mesh can offer benefits beyond connecting people directly that other networks just cannot provide. Given its flexible nature and lack of infrastructure, mesh excels at extending the range of connectivity. For example, subway travel in a city is a huge deadzone for Wi-Fi and LTE, but with a mesh network, messages and data can still be carried between devices.
Although this does not mean the devices on the mesh can have access to the internet it does mean that messaging and data can be passed through the mesh. If no single device is connected to cellular or wifi the mesh will be free floating and phones and tablets still able to connect. Later when a connection to cellular or wifi is made again then information from the mesh – activity of the mesh – can be returned to a software platform.
As everything is done peer to peer, you can only truly be offline when not in range of another device on the mesh, and to get around the short ranges imposed by protocols like Bluetooth, mesh networks hop data between users, extending the reach of information indefinitely.
Mesh Management Platforms
Managing a mesh network can be done from a software platform. A microservice architecture supporting content curation, intelligent real-time content delivery, integration, geozone management, cloud streaming and analytics services.
This allows stadiums and events, retail, enterprise, construction and transportation organisations to manage a local mesh network to offer not just connectivity for staff and public but a unique network they control.
Messaging across the mesh network can be very sophisticated, utilising geolocation, geo zones, and policy to deliver the right message to the right person in the right place at the right time. This could enhance the users experience enormously. No need to bombard messaging on mass when user and context can enable targeted communication. For example in a healthcare environment different job roles in different areas could be sent different messaging. In retail offers could be delivered in the right place at the right time to the right people.
Use cases for Mesh Networks
The uses of a mesh network are countless. Enhancing asset tracking in warehouses as multiple devices can pinpoint locations, creating hubs in offices to improve intra-office communication, creating new live experiences, enhanced engagement and gamification in venues such as stadiums through mesh interactivity. One such example relevant to recent events is how a mesh network in a care home alerts people when about social distancing, using positional data for a low cost, life saving solution.
Mesh Networks and 5G
You might be asking yourself now how a mesh is relevant if superfast 5G rolls out to everyone. This is a legitimate question, as something that people have been confused about is where a mesh sits in relation to its network compatriots.
Where 5G offers speeds faster, mesh was never about competing in this space. The two technologies can exist simultaneously and even augment one another, with 5G providing the raw power of gigabytes of data per second whilst a mesh ensures that everyone is connected beyond the typical range
The Future of Mesh Networks
There is still a lot of work and research going on to understand how best to implement and utilise mesh networks. Mesh is still relatively speaking in its infancy as a technology with many yet unexplored potentials and boundaries.
Engineers within various companies are still working towards refining the core features of mesh networks. Getting data to route itself to the right person in a large crowd whilst considering and managing issues of privacy and data protection takes a very smart system, but great steps have been made and mesh is continuously being finessed.
There is great potential for mesh networks to expand the realms of connectivity in the near future. From eliminating zones of no connection to every major app being integrated into the mesh – the way we handle data and communication is going to change.
Whilst the focus today is 5G, there is only so far we can go with adding more infrastructure to widen our connections. Mesh is the infrastructure-lite, quiet tech revolution to watch out for.
Mesh could be the stealth innovation of the 2020s.