Is Mesh a Problem for MuniFi?

The CEO of Israeli WiFi software equipment company InspiAir, Tamir Galili, says the inherent limitations of WiFi mesh technology are behind some of the slow MuniFi rollouts in U.S. cities — a lot of the test pilots that these cities are doing are failing, and mesh is just not suitable, he says.

Is he just trying to sell InspiAir’s alternative WiFi software and hardware solutions, or is there any truth at all in his assertion? The poor quality of some MuniFi networks is something which is starting to be discussed, but we always thought it had to do with the limits on WiFi and not the mesh architecture. If there are issues with the mesh architecture itself, that could end up being a startling upset for companies like Earthlink and Tropos, as well as cities that have already committed to these companies. That is if there is any truth in this.

Though, Galili is pretty vague on the details of how his technology is better. He says that the company’s proprietary software for WiFi equipment provides an optimized signal that beats out products like Tropos’ on range, and a better use of voice and video. When I asked for more of an explanation of the technology he pointed me to the company’s white paper — thanks, more jargon.

Galili says the company has WiFi networks mostly in Asia and Europe, including the city of Helsinki and a hotspot in Manhattan. When I asked him about the limitations of mesh vs WiFi, he said “the “Mesh people” can blame the WiFi, however, as I told you, those “WiFi limitations” do not exists for InspiAir users.”

Glenn Fleishmann at WiFiNetNews has been pretty skeptical of the company, and questions the physics behind their claims. This story in Techworld calls their technology “WiFi Black Magic,” though I’m not sure if that is good or bad. We asked WiFi analyst Craig Settles who specializes in Municipal wireless networking what he’d heard about the limitations of mesh itself. He says:

WiFi mesh is indeed limited in certain respects. It’s not great for indoor coverage, it is susceptible to interference by devices as basic as microwave ovens, trees and buildings, which can block the signals. The couple of companies that have supposedly better products that overcome these shortcomings are not ones that have made headway in the marketplace.”

We called Tropos’ Director of Marketing Bert Williams, looking for the counter argument. He said, “Yeah, I’ve heard they’ve (InspiAir) been dissing mesh. WiFi, whether it be regular or mesh, has the same limitations that the Internet has on sharing bandwidth. You have to layer a quality of service over it.” Basically, any limitations are not mesh related, he says.

That doesn’t hide the fact that many publications have written about the potential limitations of Tropos’ equipment recently, and some have complained about spotty reception that marks Google’s Mountain View municipal wireless network. Google says they are happy with the Tropos product. Williams won’t comment on the Mountain View network but says there are always a certain amount of complaints about communications services.

Galili said the U.S. is the most advanced in the world when it comes to MuniFi deployments, so I asked him why then is everyone in the U.S. betting on mesh. He says mesh is the incumbent technology and InspiAir is new to the market. That is one strong statement — can he really back it up? Or is he just an easily quotable executive with a good PR team?