Particle Mesh 101: device roles in your network

This is the first in a series of posts to get you comfortable with Particle Mesh networking. After you’ve finished reading this you will be familiar with the three different roles of Particle Mesh devices and how they compare with Wi-Fi networking devices you’re probably familiar with.

David Scheltema article author avatarDavid ScheltemaMarch 09, 2018
Particle Mesh 101: device roles in your network

Particle has discontinued development of Particle Mesh, our OpenThread-based mesh networking solution, and will no longer be manufacturing the associated Xenon development board. Particle will continue investing in its other “Gen 3” products, the flagship cellular (Boron) and Wi-Fi (Argon) product lines. Read more about the deprecation here.

You probably have some questions about what to expect from Particle Mesh. While the hardware doesn’t ship until October 2018, there is already a good deal you can learn about mesh networking.

A good place to start with Particle Mesh is to learn about the different roles a device can take in the network. This post does not cover which roles your Argon, Boron, or Xenon should take in your mesh network. But that post is coming soon.

By the end of this post, you should be familiar with the three different types of device roles in Particle Mesh, and how they compare to the Wi-Fi devices you’re familiar with like access points and clients.

Wi-Fi home network design

A typical home Wi-Fi network uses an access point (AP) to define the network. It’s responsible for creating a network SSID that clients like your phone and laptop can join. It also authenticates and provides IP addresses to clients on the network and routes their local network traffic to the internet.

Wi-Fi access points can
  • Broadcast SSIDs and select Wi-Fi channels
  • Provide IP addresses & authenticate clients
  • Route internal and external bound network traffic

Most home networks have only one Wi-Fi AP and it’s connected directly to a cable, ISDN, or DSL modem. When the AP goes down, so does your connection to the internet. And that’s likely what you’ll notice first. But that’s not the only thing that happens to the network. All of the clients on the network lose their IP addresses and can no longer communicate with each other.

For most homes networks this downtime isn’t a catastrophic event. It’s simply time to read a book, not binge watch streaming video or browse the web.

But with Particle Mesh, one device going offline will not take down the entire network. And that really matters for IoT networks, where downtime means data loss and potentially mission critical failure.

Particle Mesh network design

Particle Mesh networks use devices called gateways and repeaters to create the basic infrastructure of the network. They are a bit like Wi-Fi APs, but they can also do a lot more.

Both gateways and repeaters can create a local mesh network. They handle authentication and IP provisioning for devices that join the network. And they are responsible for routing and managing local network traffic.

Gateways can also route local traffic to external networks and the internet. This also makes them similar to a Wi-Fi APs.

Repeaters focus on the local mesh network and work together to get data where it needs to go. The more repeaters that you add to a network the larger and more resilient it becomes.

Particle Mesh gateways can Particle Mesh repeaters can
  • Create a network
  • Provide IP addresses to other devices on the network
  • Route traffic from the local mesh network to the internet and cloud services
  • Create a network
  • Provide IP addresses to other devices on the network
  • Extend the network

With Particle Mesh, both gateways and repeaters work well when more than one of them are deployed on the same network. In fact, a network with multiple gateways and repeaters is more resilient because gateways and repeaters know how to share the responsibility of routing network traffic.

And while it is possible to mimic some of Particle Mesh’s features in Wi-Fi, you’d need a networking guru on staff to set it up and constantly manage it. In Particle Mesh, these features are fundamental to the protocol and design. You simply don’t get that with traditional Wi-Fi.

Endpoints connect to sensors & actuators

The final type of device in a Particle Mesh network are endpoints. These devices focus on interacting with the physical world and are not burdened with creating a network or routing its traffic.

Particle Mesh endpoints can
  • Bridge the digital and physical worlds
  • Run off of a battery
  • Enter low-power, sleepy states

In practice, these are the devices closest to the things you want to monitor and control. A typical endpoint deployment is one where it’s wired to external sensors or controlling motors.

Endpoints can run off battery power and can enter low-power sleep states. Both qualities are great for when it’s hard to find an outlet.

Which Particle Mesh hardware should I use?

Now that you know a bit about the different device roles in a Particle Mesh network, you’re likely wondering which roles the Argon, Boron, and Xenon in your network should take. That’s something you can read about in the Particle Mesh 102 post.

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