It’s time to take mesh networks seriously: developing decentralized computer network architectures

via Wired:

“[…] Compared to the ‘normal’ internet — which is based on a few centralized access points or internet service providers (ISPs) — mesh networks have many benefits, from architectural to political.

[…] An ad hoc network infrastructure that can be set up by anyone, mesh networks wirelessly connect computers and devices directly to each other without passing through any central authority or centralized organization (like a phone company or an ISP). They can automatically reconfigure themselves according to the availability and proximity of bandwidth, storage, and so on; this is what makes them resistant to disaster and other interference. Dynamic connections between nodes enable packets to use multiple routes to travel through the network, which makes these networks more robust.

Mesh network architecture diagram - urban wireless meshCompared to more centralized network architectures, the only way to shut down a mesh network is to shut down every single node in the network.

That’s the vital feature, and what makes it stronger in some ways than the regular internet.

But mesh networks aren’t just for political upheavals or natural disasters. Many have been installed as part of humanitarian programs, aimed at helping poor neighborhoods and underserved areas. For people who can’t afford to pay for an internet connection, or don’t have access to a proper communications infrastructure, mesh networks provide the basic infrastructure for connectivity.

Not only do mesh networks represent a cheap and efficient means for people to connect and communicate to a broader community, but they provide us with a choice for what kind of internet we want to have.

For these concerned about the erosion of online privacy and anonymity, mesh networking represents a way to preserve the confidentiality of online communications. Given the lack of a central regulating authority, it’s extremely difficult for anyone to assess the real identity of users connected to these networks. And because mesh networks are generally invisible to the internet, the only way to monitor mesh traffic is to be locally and directly connected to them.

Yet beyond the benefits of costs and elasticity, little attention has been given to the real power of mesh networking: the social impact it could have on the way communities form and operate.

What’s really revolutionary about mesh networking isn’t the novel use of technology. It’s the fact that it provides a means for people to self-organize into communities and share resources amongst themselves: Mesh networks are operated by the community, for the community. Especially because the internet has become essential to our everyday life.

Instead of relying on the network infrastructure provided by third party ISPs, mesh networks rely on the infrastructure provided by a network of peers that self-organize according to a bottom-up system of governance. Such infrastructure is not owned by any single entity. To the extent that everyone contributes with their own resources to the general operation of the network, it is the community as a whole that effectively controls the infrastructure of communication. And given that the network does not require any centralized authority to operate, there is no longer any unilateral dependency between users and their ISPs.

Mesh networking therefore provides an alternative perspective to traditional governance models based on top-down regulation and centralized control.

Indeed, with mesh networking, people are building a community-grown network infrastructure: a distributed mesh of local but interconnected networks, operated by a variety of grassroots communities. Their goal is to provide a more resilient system of communication while also promoting a more democratic access to the internet. […]”

Read full article at Wired.