The February 2010 issue of Wired Magazine in Italian runs a cover story on Netsukuku, a fractal address system for a cloud of user maintained, linked computers forming a p2p network.
The Netsukuku project is based on the idea of exploiting the potential of WiFi connectivity, linking the PCs of wireless communities to act as routers, forming a network that could become as large or larger than the current Internet.
Netsukuku is an ad-hoc network forming software built around an address system designed to handle massive numbers of nodes while requiring minimal CPU and memory resources. It could be used to build a world-wide distributed, fault-tolerant, anonymous, and censorship-resistant network, fully independent of the Internet. Netsukuku does not rely upon backbones, routers or internet service providers nor any other centralized system, although it may take advantage of existing systems of this nature to augment unity and connectivity of the existing Netsukuku network.
New Netsukuku users need do little more than install an antenna within range of other local nodes and run the Netsukuku software on their computer to link themselves into the network. The number of interconnected nodes can grow almost infinitely. If a node is outside the range of another node’s WiFi signal, a “virtual tunnel” over the normal Internet connection will supplant the missing radio link.
(More in the Netsukuku FAQ)
Here is a summary, freely adapted from the Italian Wired article:
The originator of Netsukuku is Andrea Lo Pumo, 21 years old and just out of Catania University with a degree in mathematics. Andrea is a long time member of freaknet, an association of proud hackers and computer geeks and the name, Netsukuku, is a heavily ‘nipponized’ version of the term ‘network’ – adopted for its uniqueness and because the boys at freaknet are fans of all things Japanese.
“Freaknet is a meeting point for developers and technology enthusiasts like myself,” says Andrea. “We discuss file sharing, peer to peer, digitalization of information and the use of wireless networks. Some years ago we realized that the broad availability of wireless and similar technologies creates millions of miniature wireless broad band networks which could be seen as ‘connectivity bubbles’ that essentially are active all around us. During one of our discussions, an idea was born: Would it be possible, using p2p and wireless technologies, to gain independence from internet providers and make free and open net connectivity for all a reality? Could a local anonymous network be built that would connect all of our wireless devices and that could function even in the absence of a connection with the ‘greater internet’?”
What would be needed, they thought, would be a user-generated p2p network which did not need central servers or routers to direct traffic. The network would be distributed, user controlled and self-configuring but it would support and could be connected to the ‘greater internet’ using the same protocols and services. In that way, every one of those bubbles could be an independent and perfectly functional network. The problem was that current addressing technology did not allow network nodes to be connected to all the others without running into limitations of memory and processing power.
New mathematical tools were needed and so Andrea went on to study mathematics to acquire the knowledge necessary for developing a new protocol. Using chaos theory and fractals, Netsukuku, occupying only kilobytes of memory, will eventually allow every device to function as a network node. The software will run on Linux computers and is to be issued under a Gnu/Gpl license. In theory, the protocol will be able to support up to a billion nodes using a very light mapping algorithm, but it has not been tested on a large scale yet. As a matter of fact, there is no functioning release so far, but a first Python implementation seems to be just around the corner.
Netsukuku’s address system is called Andna (A Netsukuku domain name architecture). Others, perhaps a bit maliciously, re-named it Abnormal Netsukuku Domain Name Anarchy.
“In practice, my algorithm sees the network as a fractal, allowing almost infinite compression,” explains Andrea. “Addressing of data packages follows a hierarchic net topology, which is different from the flat topology the current address system uses. With this architecture, Netsukuku can form a perfectly functioning local version of the internet among a number of wireless nodes. Data packets are efficiently routed using a special method Andrea invented called Qspn or Quantum shortest path Netsukuku.”
The vision of Andrea and his friends at freaknet is a wide band wireless internet, created and controlled directly by users without the need for a telco operator. The only conditions for this to work are that the software must be up and running and the wireless objects have to be sufficiently close to each other to connect. At that point, one of those ‘bubbles’ that Andrea envisions will automatically form. A Netsukuku bubble is therefore a small, wireless and perfectly functional local version of the internet. It is sufficient for one of those nodes that form the bubble to be connected to the internet for everyone to be in communication with the larger net.
In Netsukuku there is no difference between private and public networks, because whenever the software is active, computers are automatically connected with their peers. The bubbles extend and connect with others. In theory, a network of this kind cannot be controlled or destroyed, because it is completely decentralized, anonymous and distributed. Everything is decentralized and works even with devices of moderate computing power and memory. If widely implemented, Netsukuku could help bridge the digital divide, bringing the internet to many who can ill afford expensive broadband connections.
Telecom Italy, asked to finance Netsukuku as a start-up, has declined to do so because the project is still in the prototype stage, but Andrea Lo Pumo has been awarded a scholarship, financed by Telecom, to study Advanced Computer Science at Cambridge University.
Links visited to compile this article:
Netsukuku FAQ http://www.netsukuku.org/?pag=faq
Wired article (in Italian) http://www.wired.it/magazine/archivio/2010/02/storie/ntskk—codice-segreto-rivoluzione.aspx