Ad-Hoc Mobile Networks – temporary pop-up internet

So, everyone should know what a Mesh network is right?

A network made up of a variety of nodes, which in the even of a node going down, reroutes network traffic using the remaining nodes. (Probably oversimplifying as usual, but you get the idea?)

I remember learning about Mesh networks back in the 90s when I was at College.  It’s not a new thing by any means, but hopefully we’ll see more mainstream use of the term this decade.  At least I hope so, because they’ve got a potential to change things such as how we protest, and how we communicate on an urban level.

In fact, forget it, I’m already too late, Apple have decided as of IOS 7, to adopt it.

see : What is mesh networking, and why Apple’s adoption in iOS 7 could change the world on

But, given it’s a Mesh network running on the hardware of a big company, let’s skip that…. although no doubt, some Black hatters may be able to make it work for us, and make sure it’s not all recorded in the IOS black box.

As usual, Wikipedia has a nice summary for us of what a wireless Mesh looks like.

Wireless mesh network diagram.jpg
Wireless mesh network diagram” by David Johnson, Karel Matthee, Dare Sokoya, Lawrence Mboweni, Ajay Makan, and Henk Kotze (Wireless Africa, Meraka Institute, South Africa) – Building a Rural Wireless Mesh Network: A do-it-yourself guide to planning and building a Freifunk based mesh network. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

The point is, a Wireless, Ad-hoc Mesh network is an internet capable network that may or may not be connected to the wider internet, that can span (potentially) any open or urban space, outside of the control of any corporate or governmental entity.  “Wow, why isn’t everyone doing it then?” you might ask.  pretty simple really, you need the hardware and technical knowledge to do so.  from the diagram above, you may recognise some proprietary LinkSys routers, but in the article above (which was, bear in mind, written in 2007) the LinkSys firmware was hacked, as it was based on OpenWRT (which I’ll articlise on it’s own at some point). That and, at the end of it, you’ll be connected back to the internet.  Certainly in urban areas you have to work with the  concept that free connection to the internet would have every man and his dog downloading cat pictures in 30 seconds.  It’s an infrastructure, but one that would be useful within specific contexts.

But it’s still a technical thing.  you need to know a fair bit to get one up and running, and be comfortable with some of the hacks involved.

That, hopefully may not remain the case for as long.

Check out a similar Wikipedia article, and this is much more interesting: Mobile ad hoc network.  And i’d like to emphasise the following extract

  • Military / Tatical MANETs are used by military units with emphasis on security, range, and integration with existing systems.

Now this is where ad-hoc Mesh networking really starts to mean something other than just helping a village in Africa get on the Net (and makes me interested in it).

(Who remembers “One Laptop Per Child“? – the basic premise of the OLPC project is that it would use mobile ad-hoc to join networks of OLPC machines to one or few internet gateways  for the purpose of bringing the internet to locations with no fixed gateway or infrastructure)

The context for the above extract, is within the Digital Battlefield, which makes the whole C5i (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat systems and Intelligence) work.

If you check out this memo/white paper there’s another extract I’d like to mention:

mesh-based mobile networks can be operated as robust,inexpensive alternatives or enhancements to cell-based mobile network infrastructures

One of the themes I’ll be continuing to pursue, is that any technology which means we get some privacy, or the opportunity to get away from mainstream systems and networks is a Good Thing ™.  Hopefully with the posts I make in the future, there will some sense appear, out of the madness. The point of the last extract is to point out that these networks are power.  While they may never match the breadth of national Cellular networks, when applied to smaller scale environments, they could provide much needed freedom from said national systems.

Imagine Tahrir Square, Cairo, with the support of informational networking that does not rely on the cellular network internet, and a communication system that did not rely on facebook, or twitter, which could be (and were) blacked out by the then Egyptian government.

Imagine an Occupy event, where live streaming of sousveillance devices is automatically broadcast to multiple recording facilities (also hosted on the mobile ad-hoc), all running on a network which is not reliant on a platform which is controlled by, or legislatively at the whim of, government, police or military.

And if we’re feeling nice about the people in power (God forbid), imagine a disaster area, such as New Orleans after the flooding, or Malaysia, or pretty much any are where the infrastructural communications hardware has been knocked out, having at least some level of electronic communications which could be supplemented by anything that can hook into wi-fi, such as smartphones and so on. (oversimplifying again, but the idea’s there).

Project Byzantium is what made me much more interesting the potential of this idea, and even more so when I found ByzPi which is a port to run on the Raspberry Pi. (I really will have to publish my skit on the Pi sooner rather than later!)  It’s a Linux based Mesh networking package which allows you to turn any Linux based kit into Mesh nodes, and has some pre-built communications services available such as a Twitter analog, and IRC.

I’ll try and tie this in with my other decentralisation posts as well to see what (if anything) could come out of all these disparate technologies.

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