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Software interface eases mesh network set-up

Two US companies are helping their customers tackle the tricky issue of programming transceivers in the "self-healing" 802.15.4 networks.

Inexpensive, reliable, radio networks that can use GaAs front ends now pose an even greater threat to cable-based systems, thanks to more intuitive software controls.

California Eastern Laboratories (CEL) entered a collaboration in November that removes the need for high levels of software expertise to set up networks based on IEEE s 802.15.4 standard.

The company, which is the long-standing western hemisphere design and marketing partner for NEC s compound semiconductor division, has now also teamed with Huntsville, Alabama, based Synapse Wireless.

Synapse s software, called SNAP, promises to ease the programming of microcontrollers in the nodes of a new mesh network.

“When we re talking about air-conditioning systems or long haul trucking, these companies expertise is not wireless networking,” explained Rich Howell, director of business development at CEL.

“The SNAP software is an ease-of-use sell. It makes the whole implementation much quicker, much more intuitive. It s really going to expand our market penetration, and help our customers who are not experts in wireless to implement and install wireless networks.”

CEL sells CMOS and GaAs-based amplifiers, switches and modules for the 802.15.4 market, in which Zigbee is the best known single specification. It also launched a dedicated CMOS transceiver in June.

Programming the transceiver s microcontroller is the hard part in implementing an 802.15.4 network, but using SNAP removes the need to do this directly.

Using radio communication provides an economical way to set up short-range networks, cutting outlay on expensive cabling.

These wireless networks use several transceivers to transfer data, and if one such node is removed those remaining will compensate, enhancing overall reliability. To achieve this one node must be allowed to connect to several others, hence the name “mesh networks”.

Such systems are deployed in applications as diverse as control of automated manufacturing, tracking and monitoring status of goods haulage fleets and managing buildings air-conditioning systems.

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