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Italian province gets unwired with meshnet

Over half the Italian province of Brescia has no broadband internet service, something the provincial government suspects is a serious drag on economic growth.

So, the government is building out a wireless mesh network using Cisco’s Outdoor Wireless products. For an initial investment of Eur2m, the province estimates it will contribute some Eur139m to the economy over the next six years.

Mesh networking is a technique, currently subject to extensive research, that connects each node to several others without a hierarchical structure. Each node is at once a router and a gateway, handling its own traffic and also forwarding packets bound for others.

There is no necessary distinction between access and backhaul, but this could be provided by a second mesh.

A key consequence of mesh networking theory is that capacity scales automatically with demand – if more nodes are deployed to serve rising demand, they bring with them more routing capacity by definition. Also, in a wireless mesh, there is no requirement for wireline infrastructure within the mesh itself.

Hence, various forms of WLAN and WiMAX mesh network have been a favourite for organisations trying to reach underserved communities. In Brescia’s case, the network consists of Cisco Aironet 1500 access point routers deployed around 120 towns in the first phase, using 802.11b/g for user access and 802.11a for the links between access points.

One of the most difficult problems in municipal wireless has historically been organisational, with a variety of problems related to ownership, control and relations with other networks. Brescia has chosen to own the system, but contract out its management to a local telecoms firm.

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