Sunday, March 25, 2007
In the late 1990s, when Wi-Fi-equipped laptops were still a novelty, Narasimha Chari saw the possibility of creating large communications infrastructures using wireless mesh networks--which at the time were the exclusive province of the military. In 18 months of moonlighting while a physics grad student at Harvard University, he created elegant algorithms that tailored mesh networking for routine civilian communications.Tropos Networks, the company Chari founded in 2000 with co-inventor Devabhaktuni Srikrishna, helped launch commercial wireless mesh networking. With their straightforward installation--routers attach to lampposts--and attendant low cost, mesh networks have eased into plentiful use both outdoors (on campuses, in public safety networks, and at gatherings such as festivals) and in (in hospitals and factories). But Tropos is focusing on the rapidly growing market for networks that serve entire municipalities. That's the application of choice for one-third of the company's 200 customers.Tropos's services, which are built around Chari's routing protocols, dominate the nascent mesh-networking industry. Telecommunications companies fear the proliferation of the technology, seeing it as a threat to their Internet access businesses. In fact, the telecommunications industry is lobbying for legislation granting them--not local governments--first dibs on municipal Wi-Fi installations. Meanwhile, Tropos is gaining customers at a rapid clip; 75 signed on in the first half of 2005.