A pressing need to improve the durability and dependability of communication infrastructure has seen widespread implementation of wireless mesh networks in transport-heavy industries. Peter Lenard, senior vice-president, business development, looks at how manoeuvrability, scalability and reliability has made Rajant Corporation's BreadCrumb® technology a hit.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the US, communication was drastically impeded by a partially destroyed and radically overloaded system. Surges in traffic crashed mobile networks, cut subscriber cables interrupted wired services and a lack of interoperability between radio communications hampered the rescue missions. The worst domestic terrorist assault in US history highlighted the inherent weaknesses in the nation's traditional networks; flaws Rajant Corporation set about addressing.
"Our team envisioned a more robust technology that would create networks through the deployment of special nodes in the event of critical infrastructure damage, like what was experienced after 9/11," says Peter Lenard, Rajant's senior vice- president, business development. "We saw how poorly the communication infrastructure was left afterwards and how people on the ground had to use 'sneaker-net' to run messages back and forth to those to/from the hot zone."
Over a decade later Rajant's Kinetic Mesh is one of the most reliable, scalable and deployable network technologies in the world. Built from manoeuvrable nodes that connect wirelessly to provide coverage (the mesh), BreadCrumbs can move in real time and handle heavy IP traffic, while maintaining high-bandwidth connectivity where failure is not an option.
"Think about the nodes as dropped crumbs that act as repeaters that pass data back and forth," says Lenard. "The BreadCrumbs automatically sync up, so the system requires very little operator or user intervention. For instance, if nodes were attached to a train and located on the wayside, data would continue to be transmitted as it moved down the track with a 'make before break' feature for zero packet loss.
The more nodes in the network the better, and in some networks Rajant has deployed more than 500 individual BreadCrumbs, demonstrating the scalability of the technology.
"Typically, other networks have a master controller, or some type of "root node", which not only acts a single point of failure but also limits the system's size, as it can normally only control about 49 nodes at a time," says Lenard. "We don't have that. We've written our patented Instamesh® protocol so that it's a distributed layer 2 technology and doesn't require a controlling node. You can add as many BreadCrumbs as you want and it still won't need a network reconfiguration or user intervention. This plays best for mobility."
While the Instamesh protocol and automatic routing makes BreadCrumbs ideal for mobile situations, they've also been designed to cope with surges in data traffic. Offering upwards of four radio frequencies (from 300MHz to 6GHz) per node reduces the likelihood of data packets experiencing frequency jamming and ensures that there is no single point of failure.
Though funded in part by the US military, BreadCrumbs have also been deployed across industries such as mining, rail/transport, and oil and gas, where vehicles, or other moving assets are fitted with them to provide a high-bandwidth network across expansive landscapes for secure voice, video and data.
"We have been successful in industries with many mobile assets," says Lenard. "Open-cut mining sites have 150 or more vehicles over 50 square miles or more: all are networked and moving around with minimal fixed infrastructure."
It's a model that Rajant Corporation is translating into more and more transport networks, where mobile assets create an ideal platform for the BreadCrumb mesh, and, as companies add more moving assets or vehicles, BreadCrumb's simplicity, scalability and reliability means it can incorporate them into the wireless mesh seamlessly.