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Kill Switch 150x150In Cory Doctorow's young adult novel Little Brother, the protagonist starts a wireless ad-hoc network, called X-Net, in response to a government crack-down on civil liberties. The characters use gaming systems with mesh networking equipment built-in to share files, exchange message and make plans.

The Internet blackout in Egypt, which we've been covering, touches on an issue we've raised occasionally here: the control of governments (and corporations) over the Internet (and by extension, the cloud). One possible solution, discussed by geeks for years, is the creation of wireless ad-hoc networks like the one in Little Brother to eliminate the need for centralized hardware and network connectivity. It's the sort of technology that's valuable not just for insuring both freedom of speech (not to mention freedom of commerce - Egypt's Internet blackout can't be good for business), but could be valuable in emergencies such as natural disasters as well.

Here are a few projects working to create such networks.

Update: Here are four more projects. These are all a lot further along than the projects mentioned here.

Wireless ad-hoc networking has been limited in the past by a bottleneck problem. Researchers may have solved this issue for devices with enough computational power. The U.S. military is alsoinvesting in research in this area.

The OLPC's XO has meshnetworking capabilities. And some gaming systems, such as the Nintendo DS, have mesh networking built in. But we want to look at projects that are specifically aimed at replacing or augmenting the public Internet.


Openet is a part of the open_sailing project. Openet's goal is to create a civilian Internet outside of the control of governments and corporations. It aims to not only create local mesh networks, but to build a global mesh network of mesh networks stitched together by long range  packet radio. See our previous coverage here.


Netsukuku is a project of the Italian group FreakNet MediaLab. Netsukuku is designed to be a distributed, anonymous mesh network that relies only on normal wireless network cards. FreakNet is even building its own domain name architecture. Unfortunately, there's no stable release of the code and the web site was last updated in September 2009.


Not to be confused with the mesh networking hardware vendor of the same name, OPENMESH is a forum created by venture captalist Shervin Pishevar for volunteers interested in building mesh networks for people living in conditions where Internet access may be limited or controlled.

Pishevar came up with the idea during the protests in Iran in 2009. "The last bastion of the dictatorship is the router," he told us. The events in Egypt inspired him to get started.

It's a younger project than Openet and Netsukuku, but it may have more mainstream appeal thanks to being backed by Pishevar. It's not clear how far along Openet is, and Netsukuku's seems to be completely stalled so a new project isn't entirely unreasonable. Update: One commenter points out that Netsukuku's developers have checked in code as recently as two weeks ago, so although the site hasn't been updated the project isn't stalled.


Please let us know of any other similar projects, especially ones that are further along, in the comments or by e-mailing



This post is part of our ReadWriteCloud channel, which is dedicated to covering virtualization and cloud computing. The channel is sponsored by Intel and VMware. Intel and VMware can help you simplify cloud deployments. Find out how by attending this webinar Thursday, January 27 at 11 AM (PST).

Last week we told you about three projects to create a government-less Internet by taking advantage of wireless mesh networking. Wireless mesh networks are networks that don't require a centralized authority to create networks. These can provide an alternative way to communicate and share information during a crisis such as a natural disaster or civic unrest.

Many of you followed-up by telling us about several other interesting projects, such as P2P DNS to Tonkia. Most importantly, there are at least four other projects that should have been on our original list.


Daihinia is a commercial project that provides software that essentially turns Windows PCs into wireless repeaters. The company's software makes it possible to use a desktop or laptop with a normal wireless card to "hop" to a wireless access point while out of range of that access point.

There's no Macintosh version, but it's being discussed.


Digitata is a sub-project of open_sailing's Openet, which we mentioned in the previous installment. Digitata is focused on bringing wireless networks to rural areas of Africa. The group is creating open source hardware and software, including its own own IP layer for mesh networking called IPvPosition (IPvP).


Freifunk (German for "free radio") is an organization dedicated to providing information and resources for mesh networking projects. Its website has a list of local mesh networks all over the world, from Afghanistan to Nepal to Seattle.

One of its main resources is the Freifunk firmware, a free router firmware optimized for wireless mesh networking. Users can replace the standard firmware on their routers with Frefunk's firmware, enabling them to build mesh networks with cheap off the shelf hardware.

Freifunk also develops a protocol  Better Approach To Mobile Adhoc Networking, or B.A.T.M.A.N., an alternative to the older  Optimized Link State Routing Protocol (OLSR).

wlan ljubljana and nodewatcher

wlan ljubljana is a wireless mesh network in Ljubljana, Slovenia. In addition to providing its users with Internet access, it appears to also feature a local network.

wlan ljubljana is working with volunteers in other cities in Slovenia to create more local networks, and has created its own firmware package for routers called nodewatcher. Like Freifunk, nodewatcher is based on the embeddable Linux distribution OpenWrt. nodewatcher is designed to be easy to use for a non-technical user.

More Resources

Here are a few more resources:

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Respostas a este tópico

Considero o tema da mais alta importância. Ele acena para futuros-distribuídos. Coloquei aqui neste grupo para não abrir outro (mas talvez devesse). É claro que as duas coisas estão relacionadas. Plataformas i-based exigirão internets i-based. Um bom esforço seria traduzir, embutir um conteúdo resumido dos links (também traduzido), usando estes dois artigos de Klint Finley como uma espécie de índice.

The Evolution Will Be Socialized


Jamaa el Fna, a marketplace and public square in Marrakesh's medina quarter. Photo byNeal Gorenflo.

From the actions of the Egyptian government to the policies of Facebook, the monopolies of central banks to the corporatization of the Internet, we are witnessing the potential of a peer-to-peer networking become overshadowed by the hierarchies of the status quo. It’s time for us to gather and see what is still possible on the net, and what, if anything, can be built to replace it.

I have had a vague misgiving about the direction the net’s been going for, well, maybe 15 years. But until recently, it was more like the feeling when another Starbucks opens on the block, a Wal-Mart moves into town, or a bank forecloses unnecessarily on that cool local bookstore to make room for another bank.

Lately, however, what’s wrong with the net has become quite crystalized for me. It started with the corporate-government banishment of Wikileaks last year, and reached a peak with Egypt shutting off its networks to stave off revolution. The Obama administration seeking the ability to do pretty much thesame thing in the US, Facebook’s “sponsored stories,” and the pending loss of net neutrality don’t help, either.

Here on Shareable, and then again in an OpEd for, I suggested we “fork” the Internet – that we accept the fact that the net is built on a fundamentally hierarchical architecture, surrender it to the corporations who run it, and consider building something else for ourselves. The Internet as built will always be subject to top-down government control and domination by the biggest corporations. They administrate the indexes and own the conduit. It has choke points – technological, legal, and commercial. They can turn it off and shut us out. A p2p network protected only by laws – that exists but for the grace of those in charge – is not a p2p network. It is a hierarchical network allowing itself to be used in a p2p fashion, when convenient to those currently in charge.

If we have a dream of how social media could restore peer-to-peer commerce, culture, and government, and if the current Internet is too tightly controlled to allow for it, why not build the kind of network and mechanisms to realize it?

I received literally thousands of emails in response. Some people simply wanted to know if it was really true – could a government really just “turn off” the net? Yes. It’s true. Others wrote to let me know there’s no alternative; there’s no such thing as an unstoppable network. Even if we use ham radio or wifi “mesh” networks to connect to each other, they can always be jammed by governments. True, but by that logic the authorities also can prevent us from speaking to one another by shooting us. At least the tyrant would be in the position of attacking the people’s network, instead of simply turning off the network he already controls.

Finally, though, the vast majority of emails came from people who wanted to get started actually building a new net, developing p2p currency, or figuring out how to promote deep democracy through social media. What should they do? Where should they go? And those kinds of questions can’t be answered in an email, an essay or a column. It’s not something you click on. These challenges can only be answered over time by people actively collaborating on solutions.

That’s why – with some encouragement from a few great organizations including Shareable - I’ve decided to convene a summit called Contact. Contact will seek to explore and realize the greater promise of social media to promote new forms of culture, commerce, collective action, and creativity. I'm inviting technologists, artists, activists, businesspeople, funders, and other stakeholders in the networked future, to come together to hatch new ideas, connect with new collaborators, and forge an ongoing community for innovating social media and beyond. Some of them, like Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation, Paul Hartzog and Sam Rose at the Forward Foundation, have been working on these questions for a while. Others come from NGOs and even corporations looking to support and become part of whatever is next, rather than spending money resisting it.

From the development of a new non-hierarchical Internet to the implementation of alternative e-currencies, the prototyping of open source democracy to experiments in collective cultural expression, Contact will seek to initiate mechanisms that realize the true promise of the networking revolution.

The first summit, to be held October 20, 2011 as a MeetupEverywhere and centered at the historic Angel Orensanz Center in New York City, will be a participatory festival for ideas and action, consisting primarily of meetings convened by attendees. Featured participants will deliver brief "provocations" on stage, sharing the greatest challenges they are facing in their particular fields. But their primary contribution to the day will be to join in the meetings convened by other participants, sharing their experience, insight, and even connections to help bring these ideas into reality.

If it’s not the only thing of its kind in the world, so much the better. Let’s connect, conceive, and conspire. Contact isn’t a way of competing with those efforts, but supporting them.

Topics I’m opening for discussion include:


  • Can we build an alternative Internet that can't be turned off?
  • Alternatives to top-down registries and corporate-controlled access


  • New net-based currencies and transaction networks
  • Net-enabled Local Activism and Job Creation


  • Arts networking initiatives
  • Decentralized social networking platforms


  • Proxy voting to expert friends
  • open source democracy
  • "Filter Bubbles" and how to prevent them


  • What Factors Facilitate Collective Intelligence?
  • The Reclamation of Public Space

But please feel invited to bring your own. I may be initiating this thing, but I am by no means in charge.

Akihabra Station via Wikimedia Commons

At the epicenter of CONTACT will be the Bazaar - a free-form marketplace of ideas, demos, haggling, and ad-hoc connections. If you have visited the Akihabara, Tokyo’s ultra-vibrant open-air electronics market, or the under-the-highway open-air jade market of Kowloon, or even the Burning Man festival, you understand the power of combining commerce, physical location, and serendipity. A decidedly unstructured counterpart to the convened meetings, solo provocations, and the MeetUpEverywheres, the Bazaar will bring p2p to life, encouraging introductions, brokering, deal-making, food-tasting, and propositions of every kind. It is where the social, business, political, and spiritual agendas merge into one big human agenda.

Contact will hope to revive the spirit of optimism and infinite possibility of the early cyber-era, folding the edges of this culture back to the middle. Social media has come to be understood as little more than a marketing opportunity. We see it as quite possibly the catalyst for the next stage of human evolution and, at the very least, a way to restore p2p value exchange and decentralized innovation to the realms of culture, commerce and government.

Content was never king. Contact is. Please join us, and find the others. More about Contact, for now, at



Building the Technology Stack for Internet Freedom

Hillary Clinton called for the U.S. to promote Internet freedoms earlier this week and introduced a $25 million fund for technology companies that might help with the task. The New America Foundation has already applied for a grant under the program, which includes a $3.5 million proposal, of which $500,000 will be funded by the New America Foundation itself. The mission? To build the technology stack for a distributed, open-source telecommunications system.

The project would combine well-known projects — such as the open source voice projects Asterisk and OpenBTS – with new projects for mesh networking known as The Serval Project — which Kevin covered earlier this month — and Commotion, open-source firmware to enable routers to create an open mesh network. Dan Meredith, a technologist at New America, broke it down for me, and said the hope is to deliver communications in areas where Internet access is scarce, but also among populations unable to use communications because of government interference. While this technology stack would have been of limited use in Egypt, it actually could have helped protesters in the country stay connected to each other if not to the wider Internet. Here’s how the pieces fit together:

The Serval Project. The goal here is to create software used to connect phones with or without Internet access. The project uses an existing phone number, and handsets with the application installed can communicate with each other by calling the phone number of other phones in the Serval network. Serval does need some kind of wireless network on which to run, be it a wireless LAN that’s not connected back to the web or a GSM cellular network.

Commotion. This is a fairly new project that seeks to make distributed communications easier by turning any device from a phone to a router into a node on a mesh network. This can be used to create a wireless LAN for Serval-enabled handsets to run on top of, or it can be used to create an access network in general. The point here is that it’s distributed, as opposed to every connection going back to a central wireless or wireline provider. Commotion networks have been set up in Detroit and Washington D.C., and the same technology has been used to set up networks worldwide. The Commotion site says:; background-attachment: scroll; background-color: transparent; quotes: none; font-weight: normal; clear: both; min-height: 52px; line-height: 26px; width: auto; background-position: 0px 0px;">

Our first hope is first create an intranet as requested from our growing contacts on the ground to facilitate the creation of local based organizing and outreach intranet applications. Concurrently, we are working to provide strategic uplinks via satellite and dial-up to get folks reconnected to the global internet. Finally, we hope to integrate the good work folks atTor are doing into a bundle and the firmware as well. More ideas are of course welcome!

Tor. If Commotion is the road for packets to drive around on, and Serval is like the car enabling the drivers to get on the road, then Tor tints the car’s windows, according to Meredith. The software uses multiple encrypted nodes to route your traffic requests around the web to disguise where it is coming from, thus shielding the identity of user or person making a web search. Bloggers, activists, journalists and the military use Tor to keep their location, IP address and web site visits secret. For dissidents, running Tor on top of Commotion can disguise the location of network nodes and users.

Open BTS or Asterisk. Using OpenBTS linked to an open-source voice server running software such as Asterisk, a distributed network now has the ability to make voice calls without going back to the centralized core network of a wireless or wireline carrier. If one hooks a server running OpenBTS to an Asterisk server on a Commotion network, then voice calls via VoIP are now available via the existing GSM radios on the phones, even without using something like Serval.

Open GSM. This one is a bit like Pump up the Volume, meaning it may be all rebel cool, but it may not be legal. Essentially, it’s a project to build cheap base stations in various cellular frequency bands to deliver a cell signal to GSM phones. Since these towers are using airwaves purchased by private or state-owned telecommunications companies and could cause interference it’s pretty much going to be reserved for folks who aren’t okay with government regulations, or who can get approval for their networks. If your government doesn’t want you access the web, though, this base station connected back to a web gateway is one way to fight the power and provide web access.

Is this the final technology stack for providing safer and more reliable Internet access for activists and dissidents? I can’t say but as protests sweep across the Middle East and governments such as Egypt, China or Burma are willing to crack down on Internet access, the need for innovation around decentralized networks grows.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Muhammed Ghafari

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