Mesh Networks

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Basic Definition and Benefits


Mesh networks are networks that are, in a sense, "meshed" together. In a typical network, many nodes are connected to one gateway, typically a router, that connects those nodes to the Internet. These nodes are usually not connected to each other in any real way. To contrast, a mesh network maintains connections between all the nodes in said network. Because many networking implementations make extensive use of graph theory, it is prudent to sometimes inject graph theoretical terminology to describe certain network topologies. A mesh network is a connected graph, whereas the aforementioned "typical" network is more likely a star graph (bipartite).

The benefit of this node connectedness is that if one connection fails between nodes, those nodes can still connect by taking another route (there are cycles in the graph). This allows for high network dependency. This also dovetails into another important positive aspect of mesh networks: they are decentralized. If one node in the mesh fails, the network stays intact.

Other benefits include ease of and relatively low cost of implementation, particularly suiting this networking strategy to rural areas that are deemed too risky/expensive for ISPs to provide network infrastructure for.

Existing Mesh Projects


SMesh, an experimental Mesh Network developed at Johns Hopkins University

Freifunk, German for "free radio"

Resources for constructing Mesh Networks


SMesh's accepted publication on their implementation

A DIY guide to building your own Freifunk-based mesh network

Research article comparing BATMAN and ORLSD. Also gives instructions for installing BATMAN on Ubuntu

Installing freifunk on linksys 54's

Configuring BATMAN on linksys 54's

Recommended Reading


A technically flavored layman's guide to mesh networking

Why political liberty depends on software freedom more than ever (keynote address at FOSDEM 2011 by Eben Moglen)

A general overview of wireless networks and a specific high-level overview of mesh networks

Resources

  • Freifunk - German free-radio collective
  • CUWin - Urbana-Champagne Community Wireless
  • wire.less.dk
  • Meraka institute
  • Shuttleworth foundation
  • Afrimesh

Standards/Protocols

  • openWRT
  • EWRT
  • DD-WRT

Questions

  • How do radios work?
  • What is our frequency?
  • Is there frequency pollution?
  • How much ground per node?
  • Thick or thin?

-Do thick meshes move information better, or are they simply more reliable?

  • What Software will we use?
  • What hardware will we use?
  • How many?
  • Where will we put them?
  • Can we use antennae/dishes/amplifiers?

Features

  • Range (Tx/Rx)
  • Frequency
  • Data Throughput
  • interface
  • power consumption
  • weatherization
  • USB port

Possible Hardware Choices

  • Linksys WRT54GL
    • cca $50
    • 802.11b/g
    • no USB
    • removable antenna
  • Linksys WRT54GS
    • $50
    • no USB
    • Flash: 8 MB
    • more powerful than WRT54GL because contains Speedbooster
  • Linksys WRTSL54GS
    • cca $50
    • Flash: 8 MB
    • hard to find
    • similar to WRT54G, but with USB
    • non-removable antenna
  • ASUS WL-520gU
    • cca $45
    • Flash: 4MB
    • 802.11b/g
    • with USB
  • Ubiquiti Nanostation
    • cca $50
    • 802.11b/g
    • supports passive Power Over Ethernet
  • D-link DIR-300
  • Asus Wl5006

Mesh Node Software

  • OpenWRT or DD-WRT, Linux distributions for embedded systems
  • B.A.T.M.A.N. or OLSR, routing protocols
  • Firmware Plugins (i.e. Apple Bonjour)
  • Freimap, a visualization and analysis environment for community mesh networks
  • horst tool, a scanning and analysis tool for 802.11 wireless networks