Wireless Mesh Networking: a connectivity cloud for Apple’s wearables?

Lurking inside the most recent version of iOS is a technology called wireless mesh networking. Could this be the backbone of Apple's wearables?

There’s a fascinating article up at Cult of Mac today, talking about a new app called FireChat – except, well, it’s not really talking about the app at all. It’s talking about the technology that underlies the app:

The Multipeer Connectivity Framework enables users to flexibly use WiFi and Bluetooth peer-to-peer connections to chat and share photos even without an Internet connection. Big deal, right?

But here’s the really big deal — it can enable two users to chat not only without an Internet connection, but also when they are far beyond WiFi and Bluetooth range from each other — connected with a chain of peer-to-peer users between one user and a far-away Internet connection.

It’s called wireless mesh networking.

And it’s been built into iOS since version 7. And for all the fuss about the redesign, this technology might be one of the most important things in the OS.

Why? Well – there’s two schools of thought on wearable tech. Either it’ll need its own internet connection, or it’ll need to be paired in some way to the phone. This sort of technology actually opens up a third way of looking at things – it becomes part of an ad-hoc mesh network that may or may not be internet connected at any point. This could work just as well with power-efficient Bluetooth as the power-hungry WiFi, and be accessible with little or no configuration.

That sounds like the perfect cloud of connections for wearable technology – and even the internet of things.

An iBeacon from the future

What else does that sound like? Oh, yes, Apple’s iBeacon technology, that allows phones to talk to Bluetooth-enabled Beacons around a shop or other venue.

There’s been some speculation of late that last week’s Android Wear announcements parallel the rush of tablet announcements that preceded Apple’s iPad announcement back in 2010. Could these be not-yet-shipping spoilers designed to beat Apple to the announcement? Well, perhaps.

But if Apple is working in its normal style, then there will be technology and ideas buried away in its products that will enable something very different to what we assume an iWatch will be. This week’s Talk Show was a good example of that.

Wireless Mesh Networking enables device to device communication in a free-form, non-internet dependent way. And that’s almost perfect for having wearables talk to our phone – or each other.

A cloud for buildings or people

And let’s not forget that Apple has historically been amongst the first to bring new standards forwards, like USB and WiFi. Could its mysterious new wearable product – or products? – be dependent on this wireless mesh? And could the mesh become the backbone of a shoe range of connected objects around the house, which all talk to each other peer to peer, until the messages finally hit a peer with an active internet connection?

It’s all speculation at this point, but it’s intriguing. This personal and building level cloud could enable all sorts of connectivity we’ve never had before, without having to route everything through the internet first. Watch this (literal) space…

Photo by Mark Skipper and used under a Creative Commons licence