Mesh networking, a network topology in which each node cooperates to relay and
distribute data for the network, has been in use for a variety of networking
needs. Broadly, they are:
- Mesh networks for municipalities/smart city initiatives (Part 1)
- Mesh networks for military use (Part 2)
- Mesh networks for enterprise telecommunications (Part 3)
We’ll be exploring a few examples in which mesh networks have been utilized to fit the specific needs of different network systems, with a special focus on how mesh networks successfully brought value to existing WiFi infrastructures.
Part 1: Municipalities/ Smart Cities
City-wide or even region-wide wireless networks have long been in development because of the clear benefits of a connected “smart city”. It is more economical to the community to provide wireless internet service as a utility rather than to have individual households and businesses pay private firms for such a service. Such networks are capable of enhancing city management and public safety, especially when used directly by city employees in the field.
They can also be a social service to those who cannot afford private high-speed services.. However, such initiatives are costly undertakings because the size of coverage areas require vast amounts of Access Points, each of which add to network complexity, maintenance, and cost. As such, mesh networks, requiring less hardware to reach complete coverage, have started to be implemented as a lower cost, lower complexity solution to municipality WiFi.
We will examine two ways in which municipal mesh networks are being implemented.
Open Wireless/ Guifi.net
Globally, in cities and regions where there is difficulty connecting to the internet for a variety of reasons, namely geographic and cost, mesh networks have been implemented as a solution that lowers the barrier to entry for new networks and ensures the ability to communicate and access information.
Open Wireless is a coalition of these mesh networks to build an international community focused on facilitating the interconnection of existing local physical networks and sustaining a community of local interconnected networks. It includes mesh networks in: Spain, Canada, the United States, Slovenia, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Columbia, South Africa, France, and Colombia.
One of the largest of these is Guifi.net, a mesh network located in Catalonia, Spain. It was built in 2004 to solve broadband internet access difficulties in rural areas, where there was a lack of traditional operators to provide services.
There are an estimated 50,000 people service through this commons based network, where people deploy their own network to interconnect as nodes. This mesh network has around 33,000 nodes with 15,000 more planned.
Although this form of mesh networking requires by far the most effort from the average user, its growth shows the attractiveness of the decentralization and distribution brought by mesh networks.
Veniam, with the motto of “the internet of moving things”, turns vehicles into Wi-Fi hotspots and builds vehicles mesh networks that expand wireless coverage and collect terabytes of actionable city data. Their hardware, software and cloud components are delivering systems in New York and Singapore, as well as in a network of connected vehicles, which includes taxis, waste collection trucks and the public bus fleet in Porto, Portugal.
Veniam wants to turn fleets of vehicles, public or private, into live networks, that both bring folks online without being dependent on cellular networks.
The company’s technology has so far been best demonstrated in Porto, Portugal, where the firm has partnered with the Sociedade de Transportes Colectivos do Porto (STCP) and the municipality of Porto. Veniam installed its hardware onto the public bus system, bringing wireless connectivity to the general population.
Veniam is also active at the National University of Singapore (NUS), where it has built a campus-wide vehicular mesh network. The vehicular mesh network brought a significant improvement to pre-existing area coverage, reducing the number of APs needed across campus.
Mesh networking technology has been developed to gain independence from static networks that are difficult or even impossible to scale. As the given examples show, mesh networks can be a successful alternative to traditional networks -- giving wider range and high security while adding other benefits like actionable data to optimize operations.
They however, still do not eliminate the need for more hardware. Vehicular mesh networks and municipal mesh networks still rely on alternative hardware installations from either providers or users. Guifi.net, for example, requires users to purchase and install hardware to become nodes on the mesh network. This complexity and upfront investment acts as a barrier to more widespread usage.
In contrast, however, Anyfi offers much greater reach-ability to the average person. Instead of requiring additional hardware and installation, the Anyfi software leverages the latent bandwidth in each user device to spread internet connectivity. This requires far less cost and complication while achieving even greater coverage and connection.
Anyfi networks will automatically, without additional cost to the client, scale to meet the exponentially growing number of smartphones and amount of data trafficked.
If the majority of public WiFi users had Anyfi's SDK installed on their devices, widespread coverage throughout a city could be achieved with minimal investment.
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