MeshNetics senses bright future for sensor networks

The ZigBee mesh networks standard is expected to grow quickly as costs come down

In January 2006 MeshNetics, a young Russian IT company was awarded the 2006 Frost & Sullivan Excellence in Technology Award. Recently MeshNetics, still little known in Russia, has gone public talking about itself and opportunities in the wireless sensor market, the company’s main field of activity.

MeshNetics grew out of the R&D division of Luxoft, an IBS Group company. Today it is owned by Oradell Capital, a venture fund that is owned by IBS shareholders but is not part of the IBS Group.

MeshNetics was officially spun off from Luxoft in late 2005. The company unveiled its first product, the ZigBee sensor network communication module in mid-2006.

The ZigBee standard is used for connecting various devices in a network that enables wireless transmission of telemetric information and sends control signals from these devices. Bluetooth can also be used for this, but according to Vasili Suvorov, MeshNetics general director, it is not very good for large-scale use.

There are a number of advantages to ZigBee, namely low power consumption as well as the ability to support the complicated cellular layout of a self-organising mesh-network that allows for sending data from point to point using different routes. The technology allows extensive coverage of up to several hundred metres in open space and a few dozen metres inside a building. Yet with extensive coverage like this, the speed of connection is relatively low — 256Kbit/s which makes such networks good only for text-information transfer.

MeshNetics develops ZigBee modules that can be used by hardware manufacturers. The scope of ZigBee module use is very wide-ranging from automation-system electricity meters to home mouse-traps.

The company receives around a hundred client enquiries a month, some of them quite out of the ordinary. MeshNetics specialists have developed a kit that can be used by other developers to create their own applications and devices with a ZigBee interface.

Overall investment in the project totals US$4 million (NZ$5.6 million) and while the company’s annual turnover does not exceed US$1 million, MeshNetics has ambitious plans. These include increasing turnover to at least $10 million in three years as well as winning 15% of ZigBee-based network projects in Europe and 5% in the US.

There has been continual talk about growth in the wireless sensor networks market ever since the early 2000s. Yet real growth has only just begun.

According to MeshNetics estimates, 10 million ZigBee microchips will be sold worldwide in 2007; 22 million in 2008 and 48 million in 2009.

Introduction and implementation of open standards and mass production of ZigBee microchips making them less expensive will stimulate the market. The current price of a MeshNetics module is US$21 in large quantities which is one of the market’s lowest prices, the company says. According to MeshNetics it will drop even further eventually making the battery the most expensive item in the whole unit.

MeshNetics sells its products in North America, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Western Europe, but not yet in Russia. So far there are no OEMs in Russia that would want to integrate wireless ZigBee modules into their devices.

Besides, for potential users of wireless sensors such as oil and gas companies it is easier to buy ready-made hardware that already has these chips embedded from companies like GE or Honeywell.

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Tags ZigBeeNetworking & Telecomms IDmeshnetics

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