Intermesh

It's just over a year since I gave a demo of the Freedombone mesh system, and since then apart from being updated to Debian 9 that aspect of the project has been mostly dormant. But there was always the intention to have it be able to interoperate with the internet and particularly to be able to support unmodified mobile devices. So if you're in a disaster and the internet is gone but you have any Android phone then you should still be able to connect to the mesh and communicate.

Recently I've been able to add those missing features, so if you connect one mesh client to an internet router via ethernet and reboot it then it will act as a gateway to the internet for the rest of the mesh network. Freifunk works in a similar way. If the internet connection is untrustable then it's also possible to set up a VPN connection between mesh networks to create an intermesh between different geographical locations.

If you plug in a secondary wifi adapter then this creates a hotspot which mobile devices can connect to, and once connected they can also access the rest of the mesh, or the internet if a gateway exists.

mesh_mobileapps

You can also download apps from the mesh. Only one app for Secure Scuttlebutt is currently available, but more might be added later.

I did spend some time investigating whether it was possible to get away with using only a single wifi adapter for both mesh and hotspot, but it turned out that those two things really are mutually exclusive.

In terms of preparation if you have the mesh client image downloaded, a bunch of USB sticks at least 8GB in size and maybe some USB wifi adapters then when the zombie apocalypse strikes you can requisition any laptops in your location to build a usable communications system in a short time. Zombie rushes may take down individual peers on the network, but there is no central point of failure or control so the network can adapt around damage and continue to function like a living organism.

Networking beyond the Disaster Zone

With the internet gateway capability it's now possible to use Freedombone mesh peers just like any other wifi enabled desktop operating system. It's really just Debian with some peer-to-peer apps and IPFS. So at a push it would be possible to use a mesh peer as a daily driver.

In addition to being a proof of concept the Freedombone mesh gives an indication of what the internet could be like a couple of decades or more from now. There are no servers and no gigantic and horribly inefficient server warehouses. All data is content addressable and secured via algorithms such as append-only logs. Data is replicated across the network so that as more peers are added performance improves. The system is antifragile and actively resists damage. And of course in a mesh system all communications can be end-to-end secured.

Existing vested interests like to have bottlenecks and points of control within the network to enforce artificial scarcity and siphon off value, but the scalability of mesh systems is the reason why I think that eventually the internet will evolve into an intermesh. Imagine a world in which every manufactured object needs to be capable of communicating. Every kettle, sofa and brick in the wall. In that kind of world the bottlenecks of client/server network architecture are going to fail. There's no doubt about it.

In the intermediate term we'll see mixtures of client/server and peer-to-peer technologies. There is a huge amount of client/server legacy infrastructure, including the mindset which goes along with it, so I don't think that will be going away any time soon.