Amazon Exploring Cellular Mesh Networking: Report

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Amazon may be looking to deliver reliable Wi-Fi to areas where broadband is limited but mobile data connections are available via wide-area mesh networking, based on a new patent reviewed by AndroidHeadlines. The patent describes a mobile networking device that isn’t dissimilar to mobile hotspot hardware but intended to allow peer-to-peer (P2P) connections across multiple sets of nodes. Those are explicitly meant for use in areas where a lack or slow rollout of broadband infrastructure prevents more traditional networks from being used. Each node or pair thereof would form its own Wi-Fi network and a mesh would be created between those networks along a separate backbone leading back to a “mesh network control service” via a cellular connection. Amazon claims that those would be optimized for delivering services such as Amazon Instant Video and other content where low latency isn’t critical or “access patterns are predictable.” In other words, they wouldn’t be usable for something highly interactive like gaming or VR experiences.

Background: Mesh networking has become increasingly popular with the introduction of devices such as Google’s Wifi. Those devices are meant to serve a single household rather than acting as a mesh throughout a neighborhood but the concept isn’t too different. Users connect a series of mesh devices throughout their home in order more consistently spread connectivity than is possible with a single router. With a single router, it may be difficult to reach through walls or between floors of a home and connections become spotty the further away a user gets from the router. Mesh devices house components to effectively manage connections across various open or uncongested channels with active monitoring to optimize the flow of traffic. Each also acts as a node along a path that in turn leads back to the primary router providing a connection to broadband or other standard wide-area networking technology. Devices on those networks are passed off to the strongest connection to keep latency low and a higher level of performance maintained.

Amazon’s patent builds on that through the use of mobile networking and intelligent management of separate individual networks within a wider mesh. Current mesh networks can already accomplish a similar feat through deeper settings management within a single home but oversight for management of those would be provided by a mesh control service. Central to that is the idea that it will be easier in some cases to connect directly between nodes than for a node to connect to a cell tower. In those cases, that’s what Amazon’s hardware would act as an IoT-like stopgap where there isn’t access to wired networks or where mobile networks are spotty.


Impact: Amazon’s device wouldn’t necessarily be a direct competitor to devices like Google Wifi. The company doesn’t currently have any networking solutions of its own and the patent appears on its surface to address an entirely different target audience. That may not always remain the case though and as 5G begins to roll out it could become a more widely means of connecting to the internet than broadband. If Amazon does launch its own product founded in the principles of both mesh and P2P networking, the design could give the company a head start in that market. Moreover, the patent could place Amazon as one of the only companies with a real solution for areas where obstructions prevent 5G from performing optimally.