From an early age, the adage “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” has been drilled into our psyches and ingrained in our culture. Diversification, in all of its many forms, has become a cornerstone of American economic philosophy and a guiding principle we follow in nearly every facet of our lives. Every facet, that is, except for internet access.
There is virtually zero diversification with regard to how we access the world wide web today. The internet is traditionally accessed through a handful of centralized points commonly known as internet service providers, or ISPs. However, as we’ve seen time and time again, this infrastructure quickly fails amid natural disasters, wars, and government interference.
Mesh networks do not rely on a single access point to relay an internet connection.
One need look no further than the internet outages caused by hurricanes Sandy and Harvey or the national internet shutdown in Egypt for a vivid illustration of the dangers that come from a network with a single point of failure.
Unlike the “normal” internet, which is dependent on a select few carriers like Verizon and AT&T for access, mesh networks do not rely on a single access point to relay an internet connection. Instead, mesh networks are the culmination of hundreds (or even thousands) of individual nodes that directly connect with each other.
How Mesh Networks Function
A conventional wireless router is, at the most basic level, a computer with a very specific function. Namely, connecting your device to the internet. However, when fitted with a second antenna, your typical router can easily connect with a similar router residing within the coverage area and then transmit information to that router, creating a new “node” in a small network. As more of these nodes are connected and fostered into the network, the coverage and speed of such a network increases, allowing you to blanket an entire community (or even city) with cheap and reliable internet access.
Unlike traditional networks governed by ISPs, mesh networks do not have a single point of failure.
Unlike traditional networks governed by ISPs, mesh networks do not have a single point of failure. As long as you have a single wired router within the coverage range of other nodes, the network will continue to operate and will not go offline until all of the wired nodes are deactivated.
Although these types of networks do pose a handful of legal issues due to the simplified distribution of copyrighted content, they are perfectly legal to set up and operate and have a number of promising of political, social, and economic implications.
Political Ramifications of Mesh Networks
The most obvious political ramification of widespread mesh networking is the decentralization of information and the restoration of online privacy. In a mesh network, there is no singular point of access that would allow government agencies to spy on their citizens (as there is with a traditional ISP).
Since a mesh network is built and maintained by an ever-evolving network of nodes, information does not travel through a singular access point and is, instead, distributed among dozens or even hundreds of nodes. In a post-net neutrality world, this would prevent ISPs and government organizations from monitoring, censoring, or manipulating your information, creating a more democratic and equal internet for all.
Economic and Ramifications of Mesh Networks
In addition to the more obvious decentralization of information, mesh networks provide a number of other unique benefits that extend beyond online anonymity and the restoration of internet privacy.
The robust nature of these networks allows individuals to stay connected to one another during natural disasters and other crises.
Because mesh networks rely on inexpensive and existing wireless technology, the cost associated with building a mesh network is nominal when compared to the expensive installation of fiber optics cables and other wired networks. The widespread adoption of mesh networking would allow individuals in rural and underserved areas to gain affordable access to the internet they need to compete and keep up with our rapidly evolving technological world.
Furthermore, the robust nature of these networks allows individuals to stay connected to one another during natural disasters and other crises such as Hurricane Harvey, providing potentially life-saving access to information and emergency lines of communication during tumultuous events.
The Drawbacks of Mesh Networks
While the widespread adoption of mesh networking would undoubtedly lead to a safer, more private, and more accessible internet, the technology is not without its drawbacks, the most obvious of which is the decreased performance most users in a mesh network experience.
At this time, mesh networks pose a number of potential security risks due to the interconnectedness of different nodes.
While this particular issue will be remedied as the technology is implemented on a larger scale, individuals currently relying on mesh networking can expect their internet speed to drop with every consecutive “hop” they make further and further away from a wired node. For example, if you have a large home and use a mesh network, your connection and download speeds will begin to drop the further away you are from the base node.
Further, at this time, mesh networks pose a number of potential security risks due to the interconnectedness of different nodes. Since your device is connected to a network comprised of dozens or hundreds of different nodes, there is an increased opportunity for hackers to access your network and information and exploit the network’s weaknesses for personal gain.
Although these problems are not to be taken lightly, the benefits of mesh networking, in my opinion, far outweigh the costs and will likely become less significant as the technology becomes more widely adopted.
I predict we will see a large adoption of such networks on a local and national scale.
Mesh networking is undoubtedly the future of internet access. While the technology is currently being used as a way to eliminate WiFi dead spots in large homes and offices, I predict we will see a large adoption of such networks on a local and national scale as the benefits of this technology become more apparent.
The decentralization of information is paramount to the continued efficacy of democracy and the continued freedom of the common man, and mesh networking is our society’s greatest hope for achieving such a goal.