A self-healing and self-adaptive wireless network infrastructure -- the stuff of network administrators' dreams -- is expected to become a reality in June this year, following pilots of wireless meshed network technology conducted by Nortel Networks and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The wireless meshed network architecture incorporates auto-discovery and self-healing algorithms to simplify deployment and reduce service outages by optimizing radio link communications and minimizing interference. It creates a Community Access Network (CAN), which is a cluster of wireless access points that form a mesh, expanding the WLAN hotspot.
"The administration work increases exponentially when the access points increase from two or three to 200 or 300 access points," said Philip Goldie (left), Product Marketing, Alteron, Asia Pacific, Nortel Networks.
The self-organizing nature of the architecture removes the need for radio frequency engineering or commissioning, enabling installation in any location where power is available, significantly increasing the reach of wireless LAN coverage. Previously, a detailed radio frequency design had to be done in order to be sure that coverage of each access point did not interfere with another.
"The wireless meshed network is a self-healing network," said Goldie. "When a failed access point appears, the network can dynamically raise the strength of surrounding access points to provide coverage for the missing area."
This is achieved by using another radio frequency to communicate between adjacent access points in order to understand the status of adjacent access points as well as route data through the other access points. The self-healing, self-discovery functions allow the system to dynamically re-provision itself.
Furthermore, the architecture also makes the job of identifying illegal or unauthorized access point set up by individuals within an enterprise easier. "The wireless meshed network would be able to automatically detect a rogue access point, whenever they appear," explained Goldie.
As part of Nortel Networks Business Without Boundaries vision, the architecture was designed to provide the appropriate level of network access and security while supporting the unrestricted mobility of end users.
The Wireless Mesh Architecture is especially advantageous for wireless deployments in open areas or where no LAN infrastructure exists, such as warehouse and university campus environments. This solution replaces the wired backhaul or transit link with a wireless link, eliminating the need to install additional LAN cabling and other infrastructure to extend WLAN service beyond the reach of the existing LAN.
"In the usual setup, every wireless access point will need to be connected to a wired network," said Goldie. "For the meshed network, it is possible to just use a single wired feed and have the whole network access supported through the single wire feed with all the access points meshed into a single whole network."
Data can use multi-hop, wireless backhaul in last mile from a wired broadband connection point to route out of the wireless network.
"The architecture solves a fundamental business problem," said Goldie. "It can be used in campus scenario or in mining areas or in the middle of the desert where the environment is not wired up."
Another function of the meshed network is that it provides consistent quality of service. When the strength of the access points are being affected by other appliances such as microwave oven, the network would be able to detect and provide continuous support by bringing up the strength of the access points.
According to Goldie, each access point is AC powered and needs a power outlet presently. However, future development may include embedding solar technologies into the access points in order to form meshed networks not limited by the positioning of power outlets.
The architecture also requires a wireless gateway to advertise reachability within the enterprise for one or more IP subnets assigned to WLAN CAN subscribers and network entities.
The Optivity Network Management System (ONMS) will provide centralized facilities for monitoring and managing the network operations.
The trial projects were started late last year and are expected to be completed soon. According to Goldie, there will be more trials to be set up by educational centers and carriers entering into the market.