Forward-thinking technologists, including me, have been predicting for some time that adaptive mesh networking would be the doom of the telecomms-carrier and broadband oligopoly. Now comes a scientist from Australia with an idea so diabolically clever that I’m annoyed with myself for not thinking of it sooner: put the mesh networking in smartphones!
For those who came in late, “adaptive mesh network” is shorthand for a way to do Internet everywhere by building cheap wireless Internet routers that communicate over unlicensed radio spectrum and self-organize by handshaking with their neighbors. Such a network can relatively easily be engineered to autoconfigure and heal itself against point failures.
In Dr. Gardner’s scheme, smartphones equipped with adaptive-mesh hardware and software take the place of the dedicated mesh nodes everyone else has been imagining. Here’s what makes this diabolically clever:
- By pitching it as a backup in case a power outage or disaster takes out cellphone towers, Dr. Gardner makes it an easy political sell and hard for the carriers to oppose. Regulators might even mandate it as a way to solve the 911 problem!
- Smartphones already have to have most of this capability anyway; adding one more frequency band and adaptive-routing software is no big deal.
- The scheme amortizes the cost of the mesh support across the smartphone vendors’ huge production runs, lowering cost per unit way past anything achievable for dedicated mesh nodes.
- Very clever attack on the power-distribution problem; people will solve it every day because they want to keep their individual phones running!
- This mesh would be self-deploying; instead of fixed node locations, it goes where the users are.
There would still be a place for fixed-location mesh nodes as a backhaul network to increase aggregate bandwidth and service reliability. And they’d get much cheaper, because cellphone production volumes would pull the cost of the repeater hardware down to zip. People would buy sixpacks of booster nodes at supermarkets; banks would give them away like they do calculators now.
This idea is beautiful. It is made of goodness and winnitude. It’s technically feasible, should be politically viable, and gets on the right side of economics of production scale. Hey, Google! Want to really undermine the bandwidth monopolists? Throw some funding at this guy now – better yet, hire him and put the mesh support into Android!