Mesh Networking and Net Neutrality

There’s a scene in the sequel to Avogadro Corp (working title: Leon’s Story) in which one of the main characters is describing “the mesh”. Here’s an excerpt:

Leon hesitated, weighing the coolness impact of answering, then decided. He felt sorry for the teacher. “The Mesh was formed ten years ago by Avogadro Corp to help maintain net neutrality,” he began.

“At the time, access to the Internet in the United States was mostly under the control of a handful of companies such as Comcast, who had their own media products they wanted to push. They saw the Internet as competing with traditional TV channels, and so they wanted to control certain types of network traffic to eliminate competition with their own services.”

“Very good, Leon. Can you tell us what they built, and why?”

Leon sighed when he realized the teacher wasn’t going to let him off easy. “According to Avogadro, it would have been too expensive and time consuming to build out yet another network infrastructure comparable to what the cable companies and phone companies had built last century. Instead they built MeshBoxes and gave them away. A MeshBox does two things. It’s a high speed wireless access point that allows you to connect your phone or laptop to the Internet. But that’s just what Avogadro added so that people would want them. The real purpose of a MeshBox is to form a mesh network with nearby MeshBoxes. Instead of routing data packets from a computer to a wireless router over the Comcast, the MeshBox routes the data packets over the network of MeshBoxes.”

Leon hadn’t realized it, but sometime during his speech he had stood up, and starting walking towards the netboard at the front of the room. “The Mesh network is slower in some ways, and faster in other ways.” He started drawing on the board. “It takes about nine hundred hops to get from New York to Los Angelos purely by mesh, but only about ten hops by backbone. That’s a seven second delay by mesh, compared to a a quarter second by backbone. But the aggregate bandwidth of the mesh in the United States is approximately four thousand times the aggregate bandwidth of the backbone because there are more than twenty million MeshBoxes in the United States. More than a hundred million around the world. The mesh is bad for phone calls or interactive gaming unless you’re within about two hundred files, but great for moving files and large data sets around at any distance.”

He paused for a moment to cross out a stylized computer on the netboard. “One of the benefits of the Mesh is that it’s completely resistant to intrusion or tampering, way more so than the Internet ever was before the Mesh. If any node goes down, it can be routed around. Even if a thousand nodes go down, it’s trivial to route around them. The MeshBoxes themselves are tamperproof – Avogadro manufactured them as a monolithic block of circuitry with algorithms implemented in hardware circuits, rather than software. So no one can maliciously alter the functionality. The traffic between boxes is encrypted. Neighboring MeshBoxes exchange statistics on each other, so if someone tries to insert something into the Mesh trying to mimic a MeshBox, the neighboring MeshBoxes can compare behavior statistics and detect the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Compared to the traditional Internet structure, the Mesh is more reliable and secure.”

Leon looked up and realized he was standing in front of the class. On the netboard behind him he realized he had draw topology diagrams of the backbone and mesh. The entire class was staring at him. James made a “what the hell are you doing?” face at him from the back of the room. If he had a time travel machine, he’d go back and warn his earlier self to keep his damn mouth shut.

The teacher on the other hand, was glowing, and had a broad smile on his face. “Excellent, Leon. So Avogadro was concerned about net neutrality, and created a completely neutral network infrastructure. Why do do we care about this today?”

In essence, this is what we need someone like Google to do. If they can give away 60,000 Chrome OS laptop just to beta test their software, they can certainly give away a million mesh-enabled wireless access points to ensure net neutrality.

Google already has a presence of some kind in many cities: whether a corporate site, a data center, or a content distribution network. In that case, mesh networking is even more effective, because for most people, a mesh-backbone connection would be within a few dozen hops. Instead of running gigabit fiber to our homes, give us a gigabit mesh network!

5 thoughts on “Mesh Networking and Net Neutrality

  1. I found this site by searching for “net neutrality” and “mesh network”, so I totally agreed before I even got here. ;)

    Have you heard of the Mesh Potato? It is a mesh network telephone system which supports data transfer too:
    http://www.villagetelco.org/

    Two differences from your proposal are (1) the potato is totally open-source and hackable, and (2) any two people can set up their own network at $100 per house. No need for Google or any other sugar daddy.

    I’d really like to find a mesh data network project that addresses the issue of net neutrality specifically.

    Good luck with publishing, I enjoyed reading the excerpt above…

  2. uhhhhhhhh

    900 hops from NYC to LA purely by mesh means that the average hop is 2.7 miles. Of course in NYC and in LA, the hops are shorter due to buildings and stuff. Then, once we’re out of New York and the eastern seaboard, how do you propose to cross Kansas or Oklahoma?

    Assume you used half your hops avoiding the Great Plains, but we now have to get the 500 miles from Kansas City to Denver. There are many stretches in Kansas where it is more than ten miles between commercial buildings and residences, ditto Oklahoma and Nebraska and Texas and the Dakotas.

    Are you suggesting that a mesh box, sitting on top of a tv in Cottenwood Falls can reach out a couple of miles to a mesh box in Elmdale, and then Clements and then Cedar Point and then Florance… That’s quite an achievement for a set-top-box inside a building with no external antenna. What sort of RF power and what radio band are you thinking of?

    When you do this attempt at 2 to 5 mile mesh across the central US, 500 miles wide and 1500 miles tall, you are going to have a hard time justifying more than about 700 continuous paths across the great plains. What is the potential bandwidth of a mesh box running in the middle of a gap over two miles wide on each side of it?

    Basically, about 700 or so mesh boxes in small towns and farmsteads across the great plains are the sole connection in this scenario between the east and west coast. Even if they have 100 mpbs bandwidth (which I can’t see out of a set-top-box) you essentially HAVE to have backbones linking the meshes between urban centers. Rural America just won’t be served by this and rural America provides a giant gap in your mesh.

    It’s a mistake I see made by Europeans and US city dwellers on a regular basis. You know the old joke: Americans think a hundred years is a long time. Europeans think a hundred miles is a long ways.

    • Hey Rick,

      Thanks for doing the math. I agree with you, there’s substantial problems to achieving it with the technology we have today.

      But a couple of thoughts:

    • This is set about twelve years in the future. It seems reasonable that we’ll continue to see incremental improvements in wireless technology between now and then.
    • There have been multiple cases of unamplified wifi connections extending over 200 kilometers. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-range_Wi-Fi
    • In the story, the company is motivated to break the monopoly that cable and other backbone companies have on data transmission. As such it’s reasonable that they could be investing in technology other than wifi: e.g. GSM communications that can easily reach 10 miles or more. They could be motivated to spend hundreds of dollars per mesh router on achieving their goal.
    • In the story, it’s not expected that all traffic go by mesh: it’s sufficient to provide an alternative to backbone route, which effectively breaks the backbone monopoly, and ensures that they have to be open to all data. Once they do that, then data gets routed across both mesh and backbones.
    • Another way to think about it. Let’s say that it’s Google that provides the mesh boxes. They just need mesh connectivity to their own data centers. Once the data gets there, it can be routed over Google’s own backbone connections. So there’s no need to cross Kansas and Oklama the slow way. :)
    • Here’s the real question: How the heck do you get data across the oceans? I think we can agree that mesh routing breaks down there.
    • At any rate, thanks for doing the math! It’s a fun mental exercise.

      Will

      • Assuming we don’t encounter some non-einsteinian fold-space way to transmit data long distances, within the purview of currently understood physics there is a simple relationship between the available carried bandwidth and the power and frequency of the carrier. Power is important because even in a wave guide there is some signal loss. Frequency is important because you can’t signal faster than half the frequency of your carrier. So, the higher your frequency, the higher the potential bandwidth.

        Without satellites or trans-oceanic cables or fibers your carrier is limited to what can be bounced around the curve of the earth. For radio using the ionosphere to bounce off (technical detailed redacted, yes, I know its not bouncing) you’re pretty much limited to frequencies less than 30 MHz, so you’re not going to get signal bandwidths over any one path of much more than 10 mbps.

        Using bounce off of the short-lived ionized trails of meteors entering the atmosphere, is cool but the trails last such a short time, your net bandwidth is more in the audio-modem range.

        There’s always moon bounce when the moon is up, and EME paths have been worked out to 27 GHz, so as long as the moon is up, a corporation with the money to invest in large dishes (steerable dishes on the order of 20 meters) can result in dish-to-dish bandwidths on the order close order of 6000 to 8000 mbps. that’s an alternate backbone for you from Avogadro site to Avogadro site.

        For the farmsteads in central Kansas tho, you have to recognize that surface-wave propagation is line-of-sight for WiFi signals, and those ten-mile-gaps are just death. Farmsteads aren’t built on hilltops, and even using careful attention to UHF tv signals, originally broadcast at thousands of watts through multi-thousand watt capable antennas, bent down towards the farm by diffraction from the edge a well placed ridge or water tower or building, receiving digital tv signals much beyond 70 miles is essentially impossible.

        Those record-setting long-range WiFi examples all used extremely highly directional antennas (30 dB and more) and even the Peruvian long-range network requires 80m tall towers to get the line-of-sight across the flat landscape to get their 10 and 15 km links with highly directional antennas.

        As to GSM, remember that a 10 mile GSM link is dependent on a very tall tower with multiple antennas and a power transmitter and sensitive receiver. Look at any of the zoomable maps of the US coverage by any of the national cell companies and look at the big, oddly ameboid shapes of the no-signal areas in Kansas and Nebraska, Northern Missouri, Indiana, Montana, Wyoming, etc…

        (Oddly, because of oil drilling, there are no uncovered areas in north and south Dakota. :-)

        So, anyway, back to the question we started with, without a cable or a fiber to link with, those trans-oceanic links are -very- difficult.

        -_ Rick

  3. How about white space networks? These are already in pilot, and offer a great bridge technology that could enable the mesh networked envisioned here.

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