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Comparing and Contrasting Wireless Mesh Networking Solutions

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Comparing and Contrasting Wireless Mesh Networking Solutions


The future of wireless networks and communications will see a huge increase in the utilization of mobile users that are completely independent from a typical WLAN, and with the ability to establish a network connection quickly. Noteworthy instances of this would be rescue or emergency scenarios (including relief efforts connected with disasters, like Hurricane Katrina) as well as military usage. Obviously, in these situations, there can be no assumptions made regarding the viability of any previously existing network infrastructure requiring the need for a MANET (Mobile Ad Hoc Network). A MANET is simply a self-sufficient group of mobile users that communicate over temporarily established wireless links that do not have excessive bandwidth capabilities.

As would be expected, an ad hoc network has no identifiable infrastructure. Instead, they consist of a number of nodes that are connected through radio waves in order to establish a network. Obviously, under such circumstances, conventional methods of identification and authentication are not applicable, since the availability of a Certificate Authority or a Key Distribution Center cannot in such a network. As a result, it becomes impossible to successfully identify either intentions or identities of any mobile device connecting to the network.

Wireless networks are one of the fastest growing portions of the communications industry, making use of radio waves and satellites to provide communications. Wireless networks are becoming increasingly popular as more companies provide portable computers for their employees. A computer with the right components can use a wireless network to communicate with other devices on the network without being physically connected to the network by a cable. In addition to radio waves, many of these networks use cellular radio technology, microwave transmissions, spread spectrum radio transmission, infrared light transmission or laser transmission for sending data.

As the logistic requirements for wireless networks become more intricate - from security issues to physical obstacles - new solutions may sometimes come in the form of previously existing technology adapted for the wireless world of today. One such solution appears to be mesh networking (which has existed since the 1970s, but not for truly commercial application), a process that allows uninterrupted connection between nodes. Mesh networking is currently utilized by both the Internet and telephone networks. The basic principle of a mesh network is that the signal is able "hop" to an available node (thus establishing a successful connection) whenever a blockage is encountered.

Of course, the true upside of such technology will be providing any user with a notebook computer or PDA that is equipped with a wireless adaptor card to connect to a WLAN or personally communicate with other users. Mesh networking provides the added benefits of installation without cables, guaranteed connection between nodes, flexibility, redundant features, reliability and acknowledgement of newly acquired nodes along the network. Schechner (2005) states, "According to a recent study by ABI Research, the use of mesh networking technology for large-scale wireless deployments could easily grow by a factor of 10 over the next five years."

Literature Review

According to Kelly (2006), there are distinct advantages to mesh networks in comparison to typical WLANs that may benefit not only large applications, but smaller organizations as well. Besides cost savings, they also provide consistently reliable coverage in areas that are normally problematic like large buildings which typically are filled with materials that interfere with wireless signals. The article notes, "While mesh networks are gaining ground in such applications as hospitality networks, public and private Wi-Fi hotzones, and healthcare and campus environments, SMEs can look to mesh networking solutions for secure, redundant, and flexible wireless networking" (Kelly, 2006, p. 30). Mesh networking has also been successfully utilized by the military and other government entities where there is the need to establish a network quickly, then dismantle it just as quickly.

Zhang et al. (2006) acknowledge the importance of security in relation to the development of wireless mesh networks (WMN). While companies await the establishment of specific protocols addressing the WMN issue, various researchers are coming to their own conclusions. It has been widely accepted in the literature that much more research is required to assure that wireless mesh networking is more than simply reliable, but is also secure. As the publication explains,

The security subject is explored with various key challenges in diverse scenarios as well as emerging standards, including authentication, access control and authorization, attacks, privacy and trust, encryption, key management, identity management, DoS attacks, intrusion detection and protection, secure routing, security standards in IEEE 802.11/IEEE 802.15/IEEE 802.16/IEEE 802.20, security policy, case studies and applications (Zhang et al. 2006).

While a WMN is indeed a network, it separates itself from the typical WLAN by the fact that any node on the network (that is in range) can automatically connect to any other node. The network is able to switch traffic to alternate nodes depending on the needs of the network (Farpoint White Paper, 2004). A truly wireless mesh network does not require a wired connection to certain access points (also called backhaul) since even those features are handled by the radio waves. The cost savings that is achieved from this completely wireless network is one of the most appealing features of the technology.

Since security of any network (especially a wireless network) needs to be a priority, it is important to understand that most current protocols related to WLAN are believed to provide security because they have been extensively tested under actual conditions. Any new protocol must be proven - sometimes through trial and error - to insure a network is truly secure. In this regard, the comments of Baek et al. (2004) seem very appropriate; "if the authentication protocol is new, the protocol is likely to have more flaws in its design and implementation than existing protocols that have been tested. For an authentication protocol to be used with confidence, its design and implementation need a rigorous security analysis and its limitations need to be thoroughly understood" (Baek et al. 2004, p. 6). This was, of course, the situation with the original WEP standard that was later found to have significant security issues.

Making the



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