We invented the Internet here in the U.S., but other countries have long since improved on our work. We're 13th worldwide in average connection speed, and we usually pay more to access those slower connections. In some parts of the country, a world-class connection is unavailable at any price.
Our system lags in part because it's physically bound to its own long history. A century ago, for instance, it made sense to route telegraph and phone lines alongside train tracks, where someone had already negotiated right-of-way, but that means 21st-century data packets now run through networks optimized for 19th-century railroads. No wonder Latvia, South Korea, and others are pulling ahead: They're building from scratch.
Several recent experiments are showing how we could start over with a new system ourselves—one that's not just faster, cheaper, and more accessible, but also far less likely to become outmoded.
The key is wireless mesh networks. Engineers from Afghanistan to Brooklyn are studying how to use these networks—made up of hundreds of Wi-Fi routers linked by custom software—to achieve a variety of ends: connecting impoverished communities, creating off-the-grid phone service, linking activists in countries where the Internet is censored. Routers are cheap and constantly improving, so the networks are easy to upgrade. And because they connect to one another independently of the phone or cable company, access doesn't have to cost anything. The problem, for now, is that people can't reach anyone outside the network. If they want to send an e-mail to their grandmothers, they still have to send a check to the phone company first.
Make the network big enough, though, and it could in theory replace the commercial Internet. We'd just have to blanket the country with millions of little routers. How could we achieve such a feat? We already have. Phones, laptops, cameras, coffeemakers, game consoles, and millions of other gadgets all come with Wi-Fi right now and are capable of relaying data from one to the next. All that's missing is a common protocol.
So what if—and granted, this is a big if—manufacturers agreed on that protocol? What if they began building common mesh-network drivers into every Wi-Fi device? Like the World Wide Web, the resulting network would at first be a mere novelty. But as users began to trust the system, they would find more reasons to connect—it would be free, after all—and eventually it might reach the same critical mass the Web did a decade ago. Best of all, since the "infrastructure" would consist only of consumer devices, it could improve as quickly as they do.
A worldwide communications system made entirely of gadgets sounds improbable, but the idea that our whole economy would migrate to the Web once seemed unlikely, too. When you open closed systems, things happen fast.
Luke Mitchell (email@example.com) is the magazine's Ideas Editor
We do upgrade the internet constantly, whether in freely exchanged data such as Open Source, closed data such as Microsoft, or operational data such as that gathered by cyberattacks or defense. Search engine abilities and hostings of all sorts continually both improve and increase in numbers. I certainly agree that we need a true public standard operational protocol, but the idea that it begins or stops in anyone's version of proprietary wifi access is not even allowable, because I want the public access bandwidth I also paid into the development and implementation of. CB radio and shortwave are cool, but I've damn well paid into technologies far beyond either. As much as anyone might hate it, I like my UNIX-POSIX rules. I like my VoIP, h.323, and 2.4 gigs being universal in our nation. I want my router Linux capable. I want to be able to control a legally purchased custom Windows OS or an IBM with my Linux system. In short, I couldn't care less what protocol is picked for what, but every time anyone tries decreasing my public access that I've paid for, I'll be seeing you in court. It's gotta end somewhere.
We need a public beamline. Fiber optic lines are exceeded. More is stored and held in current access, while less is handled by the sat system so the cost benefit is there. Keeps the fiber optic access legit for a while longer. Even as we keep settling for our crippled duck speeds.
Wireless mesh networks sound great, but data eavesdropping becomes a problem. For example, if your iPhone's WiFi becomes a router receiving packets for you and other people and passing on the packets not intended for you, it's pretty easy to snoop those packets that are going to other destinations.
Now if you want the ultimate in speed, optical fiber is the ticket. You can't hook it to your iPhone and it's a little pricey to run it to every home, especially in a country that spans several time zones, but lots of communities are doing it. Ten years ago 3.2 terabits per second transmission speeds over 8,4000 km through a single optical fiber was demonstrated. That's the equivalent of roughly 100,000 simultaneous Blu-ray quality HD movies over one optical fiber. I could live with that.
I just got paid $6784 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that's cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do, Red97.com
The networking protocol already exists .. it's called openflow ... read more at openflow.org/
how will this effect battery life. and if your device routing packet for other wont this slow it down
Why not put a 300 Mbs soon to be 6 Gbs WIFI access point on every block, running mesh protocol, and selling WIFI mesh clients for $20 bucks to stick on subscribers windows. Provide service for a few bucks a month for the infrastructure and $20 on time for the client.
These big money muni type plans always want to build a fiber to the home plan costing a 100 times the almost as effective fiber to the block option.
How about a router per block. Meraki's engineers based on their very successfull implementation figgered on 15K routers to blanket San Francisco's 776,733 population over 47 square miles for less than $5 million about $300 router and 7 bucks a person - I'd say done wouldn't you?
If you want to include rural, you can't get more rural than British Columbia. BCHydro's distribution system is comprised of over 2 million customers, on 57,000 kilometres of distribution lines, spread out over 900K power poles or about 60 meters a pole.
The cost of covering that 57K km with the fibre optic cable necessary for smart meters is about $1200 a Km.or $70M. For an additional $20M ( a few more strands) that fibre cable could be expanded to bring 1000 Mb/s access at sufficent capacity to handle all the communication traffic telephone, cellular, television, and internet BC Hydro's 2 Million customers generate.
Adding a maximum of one 300Mbs capacity outdoor boxed Dual band N router running the open-mesh system at $200 each every 2 poles would add $90M or so. Customers could access the wireless with their own equipment, buy new Open-Mesh units for $50, or demand wired access at 1000 Mb/s for $100.
Mass produced white space WIF routers at 20 Mbs along the route could provide slower but still very fast by todays standard wireless service traveling for tens of miles and penetrating buildings for a miminal additional cost.
So around $50 one time charge, every BCHydro customer in the entire province could have a best in the world 1000 Mbs communication channel internet with wired customer internet connections shared with wired smart meters, and out in the street wireless replacing cell phones.
There is far orders of magnitude more bandwidth available on wifi with 802.11ac/d than cellular spectrum, and the signals can be easily restricted to smaller areas.
They can use the VHF wave band that is now open for wi-fi, and it provides very wide range coverage.
Genius is the first word that comes to mind, I'm entirely supportive of this wonderful idea, in how simple it would make remote networking, and using our current resources as well to see it through makes it that much more amazing and doable.