A popular peer-to-peer based network would be best situated on a physical infrastructure built in accordance with P2P principles.
While the original internet infrastructure was one of P2P connections between university mainframes, the emergence of the world wide web has led to a paradigm shift, as recently argued by Simon Edhouse in The Medium is the Mess. We now have clients and servers, and in physical infrastructure, we have consumers and access providers.
The paradigm is great for business, but in terms of infrastructure, it has a hard time achieving the necessary penetration at consumer level. There is a persistent problem with bringing connectivity, especially broad band, to consumers. Bridging the last mile is not easy. Cities attempting to provide that access with city-wide mesh networks are having trouble with their plans. One recent example: Long Island Wireless, Short. Another is Portland Oregon, where connectivity has been contracted and promised but is not really materializing.
A more simple way to bridge that divide between cable and consumers would perhaps be a peer-to-peer consumer built and consumer maintained mesh network that could be linked to the pipes through comparatively few access points. It would be economical not only in terms of investment but also in terms of traffic. P4P software as recently tested by Verizon could keep much of the file sharing traffic on the “local” mesh.
But the question remains: How to motivate consumers to build the mesh?
Here is an interesting idea: in The Open Mesh Revolution, Daily Wireless reports that after an initial good start, Meraki has downgraded the features available on its wireless routers and changed its pricing policy, where they now look a lot less attractive as a candidate for getting the consumer mesh off the ground.
Enter Open-Mesh, founded by Michael Burmeister-Brown, developer of the Dashboard Software that made managing dozens, even hundreds, of Meraki repeaters fast and easy.
- It’s inexpensive. Open-Mesh WiFi repeaters cost $49 each or $39.95 (qty 20)
- It’s Ad free. Open-Mesh promises they will never push ads into your networks. You decide what, if any, content you want to display.
- It’s 100% open source and deployed on top of OpenWRT. You can change anything.
- You can re-flash the firmware if you want.
- The Dashboard management system provides free administration, alerting and mapping. It allows you to configure the ESSID, splash page, passwords, and Bandwith allocation of your networks.
- The devices auto-configure. It’s simple to create a neighborhood or apartment network. You don’t need to use their management system if you don’t want to.
Open Mesh is open source and promises to stay that way, unlike Meraki and its Spain-based competitor FON.
While the reach of routers proposed by Open Mesh isn’t great with only about 100 ft, the new entry is certainly a step towards making the consumer based meshnet work.
Update April 2008:
There is another interesting possibility of where connectivity of the peernet could come from, apart from WiFi. Mobile phone technology may be doing part of the work.
An article titled Look Mum, no hand-offs: Swedish start-up pushes peer-to-peer mobile discusses how TerraNet plans to use mobile phones to form their own p2p network to extend coverage where the telco infrastructure is getting too thinly spread.
- Terranet’s peer-to-peer technology turns each handset into a switching node, passing on calls from other handsets within a 1 kilometre range. Each handset can simultaneously transit 7 calls and each call can make 7 hops before the switching delay starts to make conversation difficult.This peer-to-peer hopping communications has been done before in military applications, although expensively, and in the Tetra emergency communications system, but this is the first time anyone has tackled the mass market in this way.
So possibly between Wifi nodes and mobile phones that network, we have the first beginnings of a mesh network that can grow into a robust layer of connectivity.
Another recent development on the mobile phone/WiFi interface is WalkingHotSpot, a software that transforms a Wi-Fi enabled smartphone into a hotspot providing access to the Internet.