In Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel Little Brother, the protagonist starts a wireless ad-hoc network, called X-Net, in response to a government crack-down on civil liberties. The characters use gaming systems with mesh networking equipment built-in to share files, exchange message and make plans.
The Internet blackout in Egypt, which we’ve been covering, touches on an issue we’ve raised occasionally here: the control of governments (and corporations) over the Internet (and by extension, the cloud). One possible solution, discussed by geeks for years, is the creation of wireless ad-hoc networks like the one in Little Brother to eliminate the need for centralized hardware and network connectivity. It’s the sort of technology that’s valuable not just for insuring both freedom of speech (not to mention freedom of commerce – Egypt’s Internet blackout can’t be good for business), but could be valuable in emergencies such as natural disasters as well.
Here are a few projects working to create such networks.
Update:Here are four more projects. These are all a lot further along than the projects mentioned here.
Wireless ad-hoc networking has been limited in the past by a bottleneck problem. Researchers may have solved this issue for devices with enough computational power. The U.S. military is also investing in research in this area.
The OLPC’s XO has meshnetworking capabilities. And some gaming systems, such as the Nintendo DS, have mesh networking built in. But we want to look at projects that are specifically aimed at replacing or augmenting the public Internet.
Openet is a part of the open_sailing project. Openet’s goal is to create a civilian Internet outside of the control of governments and corporations. It aims to not only create local mesh networks, but to build a global mesh network of mesh networks stitched together by long range packet radio. See our previous coverage here.
Netsukuku is a project of the Italian group FreakNet MediaLab. Netsukuku is designed to be a distributed, anonymous mesh network that relies only on normal wireless network cards. FreakNet is even building its own domain name architecture. Unfortunately, there’s no stable release of the code and the web site was last updated in September 2009.
Not to be confused with the mesh networking hardware vendor of the same name, OPENMESH is a forum created by venture captalist Shervin Pishevar for volunteers interested in building mesh networks for people living in conditions where Internet access may be limited or controlled.
Pishevar came up with the idea during the protests in Iran in 2009. “The last bastion of the dictatorship is the router,” he told us. The events in Egypt inspired him to get started.
It’s a younger project than Openet and Netsukuku, but it may have more mainstream appeal thanks to being backed by Pishevar. It’s not clear how far along Openet is, and Netsukuku’s seems to be completely stalled so a new project isn’t entirely unreasonable. Update: One commenter points out that Netsukuku’s developers have checked in code as recently as two weeks ago, so although the site hasn’t been updated the project isn’t stalled.
Please let us know of any other similar projects, especially ones that are further along, in the comments or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by w?odi