It’s time for Mesh Networks to be part of everyday life.
Mesh Networks have the ability to create medium range, stable, wireless networks from a single connection point built by the transmission of a signal to a device. The device then retransmits the original signal to any other device within range. The receiving devices then retransmit the same signal to connect more devices to the network. This pattern repeats to grow a network which can span up to thousands of meters in distance and can be modified for any type of radio frequency.
These networks historically (and currently) have been applied within military operations, hospitals, and large-scale commercial applications (like those Orbis Mesh has developed) for agriculture and Smart City Technology. Decentralized networks which autonomously monitor and automate devices benefits these industries. But what more can be done?
How can Mesh Networks be utilized in society?
DECENTRALIZED COMMUNICATION NETWORKS
In 2014, Hong Kong protestors used an app called FireChat to build a communications network independent of the internet. The app was used during a political protest to allow 20,00 plus people access to instant messaging communication. The app proved next to impossible for the Hong Kong government to take offline, as it was built using a Bluetooth Mesh Network transmitted by the users smart phones. The only way this peer to peer network could be shut down was disabling the users Bluetooth, something that proved impossible.
During Hurricane Sandy, a community in New York used a pre-existing WiFi Mesh Network (more on that below) to keep communications afloat when the internet service failed. Red Hook, just outside of Brooklyn, had installed Mesh Nodes around the community to bolster spotty internet service. However, they found the real advantage of the system came in absence of an internet signal. Because the Mesh Nodes were still connected via a radio signal, an offline network was able to be built to relay information about supplies and food.
The Egyptian government turned off their nation’s internet in 2011 in response to massive protests. This was done to eliminate communications and suppress the power being accumulated by the protestors. By shutting off the internet, the Egyptian government effectively isolated its citizens from the outside world. This abuse of power was a gentle reminder that the internet is fragile and is outside the hands of the people. In response, a Mesh Networking solution was born called the Open Mesh Project. The project’s intention was to build a decentralized “second internet” to keep communication open during periods of crisis or oppression. The Open Mesh Project never came to fruition, however its legacy lives on in the creation of apps such as FireChat, used during the aforementioned Hong Kong protests.
WIFI MESH NETWORKS
Using Mesh Networks in partnership with a WiFi modem extends and controls the reach of a signal within a house, building, or public WiFi area. The most advantageous benefit this system is the ability to eliminate WiFi dead zones for end users.
Mesh Nodes, or modules, are built to receive and retransmit the WiFi signal from a modem. These essentially act like satellites for a Wi-Fi network. One of the nodes connects directly to the modems signal and acts as a gateway for the rest of the nodes to connect with. Each node then talks to each other to expand the wireless range every time a new node is added.
Unlike traditional networks, Mesh Nodes communicate and retransmits their signal, creating a blanket of Wi-Fi coverage without any noticeable loss in strength. The Mesh Network strategically directs signals into areas or rooms previously beyond range, either because of distance or obstruction. This enables a WiFi network to accommodate to the design of a space by working around any existing barriers.
CROWD GATHERED DATA
An interesting application of peer to peer Mesh Networking is the ability to use it as a way to crowd source data.
“The Last Mile” for IoT refers solutions which are gathering data, but fail to benefit the end user. Mesh Networks offers to deliver that benefit. Installing Mesh Nodes in offline items is a way easily connect and transmit data using minimal power. A service such as The Orbis Mobile Mesh can offer tools to build applications which can locate items anywhere in the world without a cellular or WiFi signal. Something like a lost keychain would automatically alert its owner to its last location when another user is within the vicinity of the node.
This application of Mesh Networks will require the support of proper infrastructure, namely having Mesh Nodes strategically installed in an area. But with the proper set up a Mesh Network gives users detailed information on the world around them and helps design communities that are responsive to its citizens. Using this technology in conjunction with decentralized networks will allow city operations to function independent of telecommunication companies and help reduce the monopoly that cellular carriers have over communication tools.
While Mesh Networks have a history of being used in applications separate from the general population, this technology has a real place within the modern landscape of 21st century life. From being able to build reliable and strategic WiFi networks, to creating emergency communication networks, to building stronger and more connected communities, it’s time for Mesh Networks to be introduced in the everyday world.