Urban mesh networking

One fascinating dimension of software-defined radio is the ability to establish mesh networks: distributed data sharing systems where each computer involved is a node which can carry traffic on behalf of others. That means that as long as you have solid radio links you can establish a network that can transmit information independently from the commercial internet, run by the kind of telecom companies that provide home internet connections. If you then connect some parts of the mesh to high-quality internet connections, you can share internet access over the mesh network.

This is all part of the plans of Toronto Mesh, a group that meets at Robarts Library and is planning to set up such a network in Toronto. NYC Mesh is much father along: with Manhattan and Brooklyn ‘supernodes’ in place which provide internet access through the mesh.

There are numerous advantages to a mesh network. It can free people of all the bad behaviour from local telcos: charging monopoly prices, slowing down traffic from some sites, engaging in surveillance themselves or supporting government surveillance, etc. It also holds the promise to create more resilient networks which are better able to cope with societal disruption. Building infrastructure of that sort will be important as climate change continues to destabilize human and natural systems.

I’m collaborating with Toronto Mesh to propose a hardware and software development partnership with the Campus Co-Operative Residence. They have a large number of houses within 1.5km of each other, share many of the values of Toronto Mesh, and would likely value the ability to control and enhance their internet access in the ways mesh networking would allow. The proposal is circulating for comments and for people to start getting familiar with it now. Soon we will develop a formal version with cost estimates to go to the Co-Op board.