I read an interesting article on NPR today about how the people in the Hong Kong democracy protests are using a smartphone app called FireChat to communicate with each other. The thing that really caught my attention was that the FireChat App has the ability to work as part of a wireless meshnet that allows users to continue to communicate with each other even if the cell phone towers and Internet WiFi connections get overloaded or stop working .
The great thing about these types of meshnet apps is that it allows people to communicate in the event of a disaster or unscrupulous government where the cell phone towers have the possibility of “failing.”
What is a Mesh Network?
While my explanation probably doesn’t do it justice, a mesh network basically turns your device, either a phone or computer, into its own networking node as part of a larger network connecting to other phones and computers within the vicinity of your wireless device range. Thus the network can continue to operate when there are individual failures in the system.
This article has a much better more in-depth explanation if you’re interested in learning more.
The Future of Cell Phone Plans Without the Plans
What I think is really exciting about this new wifi mesh network technology is the implications about the future of how our mobile phones and other electronic devices will access the Internet and use data. With iPhone and Android apps like FireChat and OpenGarden, it starts to become possible to decrease one’s dependence on costly data plans. Perhaps in the future we could cut out the cell phone network providers all together.
With FireChat being the first mesh networking app to go mainstream, this technology is just in its beginning phases. I suspect that with all the publicity it is getting, many meshnet developers will start coming out of the woodwork to create all sorts of interesting phone applications.
LTE Direct Networking – 500 Meter Range!
The technology will continue to get even better once the mobile phone device makers start to roll out a new wifi technology called LTE Direct. This new cell phone communication protocol will allow mobile devices to communicate with each other with a range of 500 meters! Forget about the measly couple of feet of range you have currently, now you’ll be able to be part of a mesh network with people that are a half mile away.
With this new upcoming technology, it’s hard to imagine what the future could possibly hold, but I’m really hoping it puts the vices to scumbag monopolistic Internet providers like Comcast for example. Within a couple of years, we could see a whole new type of Internet develop, a true world wide web where every person becomes a link in the chain.
As more meshnet apps for Android or iPhone come out I will likely update this article with a list of wireless mesh network apps that are available.