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23 June 2011. New York Times report on the State Department mesh initiative:

What's up with mesh?

Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2011 18:46:30 +0200
From: Eugen Leitl <eugen[at]>
To: info[at], cypherpunks[at]
Subject: [liberationtech] What's up with mesh?

----- Forwarded message from Sascha Meinrath <meinrath[at]> -----

From: Sascha Meinrath <meinrath[at]>
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2011 12:00:23 -0400
To: liberationtech[at]
Subject: [liberationtech] What's up with mesh?

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.

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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