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[liberationtech] What's up with mesh?

Danny O'Brien DObrien at
Fri Jun 24 17:53:26 PDT 2011

On Jun 23, 2011, at 9:00 AM, Sascha Meinrath wrote:

> Hi all,
> I'd originally planned to stay out of the discussion, but given a lot of the
> questions that were posed to the list, thought I'd jump in.  Below are some
> quick answers and links to primary sources on various facets of the discussion.

This is really great, Sascha, thank you so much for posting this. I've just spent far too long browsing this links and learning a great deal. 

For those of you who want to cut to the chase, these are the pretty (impressive) pictures:
and the staggering

I've also been enjoying reading the FabFi blog <>, which is very frank about its successes and failures 

I guess my meta-question would be: if people want to be involved, but don't have a strong sense of which individual project to ally with, who should they be following, and where should they be going? seems to be the most obvious starting point (either by watching the videos or attending). Is there any other good online clearing house for information?

Oh, and are people settling on a common routing standard? Will all of these devices be able to mesh with each other?


> Generally speaking, mesh wireless has been both widely successful and little
> understood.  Between 2000-2003, my development team worked with MIT Roofnet on
> first-generation open source mesh Wi-Fi.  Roofnet was a prototype network, as
> was the work we did as part of the cuwireless initiative (which became the CUWiN
> Foundation).  Neither network offered service level guarantees since both
> technologies were highly experimental -- thus, while Steve Weis's experience was
> quite correct, it is based on technologies from a decade ago.
> As for OLPC mesh, it was doomed from the start.   I still remember when we first
> got a shipment of OLPC boards -- CUWiN was part of the original mesh development
> team -- and realized that they'd used a Marvel chipset, which had no open source
> driver.  When we requested the necessary reference docs, we were told that they
> were proprietary information -- so open source developers couldn't develop for
> OLPC.  Soon afterward, other developers ran into the same problem -- a fairly
> good write-up of the problem is available at:
> As for Shervin Pishevar's OpenMesh initiative -- I do hope it works out, but
> haven't yet seen any meaningful information about the technologies they're
> implementing.  While Shervin has gotten a good amount of press, I do worry since
> I haven't found any technical specifications, repositories, or an active
> developer community behind the initiative.
> Matt Van Hoven's link to the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition's mesh initiative
> ( is actually one of the collaborations that
> OTI has helped coordinate and implement.  We'll be expanding the network this
> summer and during the Allied Media Conference (happening this week --
>, so for anyone who wants to see these technologies for
> themselves, we'll be running some hands-on workshops this week.
> Shaddi Hasan rightfully points out that "management overhead is much higher than
> most expect" -- one of the key deliverables for the State Department supported
> work we're undertaking is to improve auto-configuration on these systems.  One
> of the key problems isn't whether the technologies work (they do), but that
> they're not very accessible to non-techies.  Our broad goal is to get as close
> to zero-conf (zero configuration) as possible.  That said, community wireless
> networks are _extremely_ large-scale -- from thousands of nodes covering Athens,
> Greece (; to multi-layered mesh in Vienna, Austria
> (; to hybrid mesh/hub-and-spoke regional networks
> covering the Djursland region of Denmark (; to the 13,000+
> node network of networks throughout the Catalonia region of Spain
> (	).  The folks running all of these networks are good friends,
> so if folks have questions for them, I'm happy to make intros.  As I wrote two
> years ago, open source mesh has been doing 80+ mbps over multi-KM links for
> quite some time
> (,
> thus the throughput problem isn't usually the mesh itself, it's the Internet
> uplink.
> Griffin Boyce points out the importance of Intranet communications -- which is
> exactly right!  The mesh networks we built in Urbana, IL did exactly this and
> we've been calling for this type of technology for years now (see, for example,
>  The NYT didn't
> really cover the technologies involved in our work, but the ad-hoc mesh wireless
> we've been building is, in fact, an Intranet -- thus, Internet connectivity,
> while useful, isn't needed for network participants to communicate with one-another.
> Charles Wyble has also pointed out that Atheros is currently by far the
> front-runner for open source mesh wireless.  Their recent sale to Qualcomm has
> left a lot of us quite concerned for the future of their relative openness,
> however.  For those looking closely at the NYT "Internet-in-a-suitcase" picture,
> you'll see several piece of Ubiquiti gear -- they are, in fact, pretty amazing
> gear for the price point.  Once the FreedomBox Foundation gets their tech
> functioning, that will be another really useful resource within a community
> Intranet as well.  Meanwhile, other key groups that we've been working with
> around the globe include the Serval Project (, Gnu
> Radio ( and the OpenBTS initiative
> (, FunkFeuer ( and the OLSR
> crew (, of course -- the Tor Project
> (, etc. -- all of whom have folks who are working with
> us on Commotion (
> Happy to answer any follow-up questions folks have,
> --Sascha Meinrath
> Director, Open Technology Initiative
> New America Foundation
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