Networks Unleashed

Communications networks aren’t
what they used to be; they are becoming increasingly purpose-built, exploiting a combination of wireless and wireline technologies to carry out specific tasks. Here’s a few we’re watching.

In-Building Nets – While the term BLEC earned itself a black eye, its intention of creating a mini-telco within a building was right on the money. Today’s implementations are ever-more creative in using not only traditional access technologies to the building but also BPL and broadband wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi or WiMAX. Inside the building is where the real opportunity begins when broadband technologies - DSL, cable or PLC - can be used to deliver not only voice and Internet, but IPTV, energy management, security access and other building controls to tenants on a subscription basis. And, with radios on the roof of the building, the telco, systems integrator or even the landlord can light up a Wi-Fi hotspot for Internet and voice services in the nearby serving area.

City Nets – Municipalities across the country are looking to government-owned broadband wireless access as a cost-effective way to bring affordable broadband into their areas, hoping to spur economic growth and provide information access to their high-speed-hungry communities. While local governments previously have built and owned their own fiber and Ethernet networks, it has never been easier nor more cost-effective than with broadband wireless. Cities can choose between proprietary fixed wireless networks, 3G mobile, 802.16 pre-WiMAX gear (presumably with a migration path to WiMAX), Wi-Fi mesh and mobile mesh. And they must be having an impact; such projects are meeting stiff resistance from telcos, which are pressing state legislatures across the country to block or limit municipalities from entering the telecom business.

Safety Nets – Security has become a preoccupation of many city governments as well as educational and business campuses. Public safety and private security forces are being supported by networks that are increasingly IP-based and wireless (not only Wi-Fi and WiMAX but also cellular), enabling Web-based surveillance from vehicles and handhelds, so personnel are available to patrol and respond to crises rather than be tied to a central control room. Mesh architectures employed by Wi-Fi and WiMAX make these networks self-healing and more resilient. Plus, pairing wireless transmission with wireless cameras enables more inconspicuous and thorough camera placement - anywhere there’s power - since CAT5 is not required.

Personal Nets -You know about MANs and WANs and LANs, but what about PANs? Personal area networks are formed by wireless communications between devices using protocols such as Bluetooth and UltraWideBand - standards under the IEEE 802.15 family. UWB, for example, enables line-powered devices such as set-tops, advanced TVs, PCs and printers to transfer data without cables, enabling both aesthetics and freedom to decide where devices are located. It also allows mobile devices such as cell phones and camcorders to interact with the line-powered world without cables.

Sensor Nets – While the low-power, low-rate wireless protocols in play fall under the PAN spec, the descriptor typically is applied to tracking applications where small radios are applied to assets, which are scanned as they enter or leave an area as in RFID applications for inventory. Other types of sensor networks, such as those enabled by Zigbee, involve home and building controls and industrial automation.

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