What is a Mesh Network?

A mesh network, also known as meshnet, is an infrastructure of nodes that are wirelessly connected with one another. Each mesh network has three main components: the gateway, the repeater and the end point.

Gateway

Gateways are considered the mesh network’s backhaul to the internet. Due to this need to interact outside of the mesh network, gateways have additional connectivities beyond mesh.

Repeaters

Repeaters are devices that “repeat” the messages that they gather to the endpoints. Known as the backbone of any mesh network, they are responsible for forwarding messages to endpoints across the network infrastructure, ensuring nodes that are far from the gateway can still receive the information.

Repeaters are a crucial part of any mesh network infrastructure, which is why they are not designed to sleep.

Endpoints

Endpoints are mesh-only devices that have no networking responsibilities. This means that they receive the data gathered and forwarded from the repeaters, and don’t have to pass it along. As a result, they can often be put to sleep when they aren’t needed, making them the ideal choice for IoT-connected devices like battery sensors.

Mesh networks can greatly benefit IoT applications in a variety of different ways. This is because mesh networks are truly wireless, compared to other networks that require Internet access or Ethernet cables to broadcast signals.

Mesh networks relay messages using the flooding method or routing method. With flooding, each individual data packet is sent through every outgoing link except for the one that it arrived on, “flooding” the network with the information.

Routing, on the other hand, involves a data packet bouncing from each network node before reaching its final destination. Each network node chooses the route that it will take based on speed and security in a process called dynamic routing.

The routing method is particularly useful due to its self-healing algorithms, which essentially reconfigures the network in the case of a broken path.

This means that if one particular network node fails, the data will still find a way to reach the other nodes, and eventually, its final destination.

For this reason, mesh networks are an ideal infrastructure for IoT projects, as they provide additional flexibility by allowing them to operate regardless of broken paths or faulty devices.

With mesh networks, once one wireless node is physically connected to a network connection like a router, the Internet is shared to the network nodes that are closest to it, and so on, until the entire network is connected. This drastically reduces the time and money spent installing and maintaining network infrastructure.

In addition, mesh networks can help to extend wireless range and improve connectivity for IoT projects that can’t be supported using connectivity methods like WiFi and Bluetooth.

Imagine a WiFi router as a shower faucet. It sends out a strong surge of water (wireless signal) where it is located, however, its strength wanes as you move from the shower head (router).

Mesh networks, on the other hand, can be viewed as a sprinkler system. While WiFi connectivity relies on one source to provide wireless signals for the entire network, mesh networks are supported by multiple signals that are spread out across a system.

All the sprinklers (network nodes) are connected to the system (Internet), and whichever sprinkler is needed (the one with the strongest connection) is used, while the others sleep.

If a shower faucet stops working, the water cannot flow through it, similar to a faulty WiFi router. In the case of a sprinkler system, one broken sprinkler head won’t affect the rest of the network.

In addition, these decentralized networks deliver extended range, allowing IoT systems to operate to their fullest potential in locations that can’t be supported with other connectivity like WiFi.

Common IoT applications that use mesh networking include:

  • Smart cities – the extended range of mesh networks enables IoT projects found within parking garages, subways, and other difficult coverage areas.
  • Healthcare Equipment – mesh networks’ self-healing capabilities ensure that a faulty medical device can be automatically re-connected, preventing mass network failure.
  • Smart agriculture – with extensive coverage, mesh networks can help ensure IoT sensors spread out across large farms are receiving consistent connectivity.