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Technology

Since 2005 large companies like Google, academic researchers, and individual hobbyists have all used Mesh Node Wifi to bring inexpensive Broadband access to their communities.

Mesh-Node WiFi is a wireless technology that allows low-cost devices to create a dynamic mesh of access points through out their coverage area.   Each access point, or node, works intelligently with the other nodes to find the shortest and fastest path for traffic to find its way through the mesh.   Furthermore, the nodes are intelligent enough to dynamically find alternate paths around congestion (i.e. one of the DSL connections becomes clogged or a router gets turned off).  For Wi-Fi in particular these nodes are the wireless routers themselves, which will cost roughly $50/ea.

This technology is especially appealing for providing low-cost wireless Internet service throughout a neighborhood, as it does not require installing a phone line and DSL service at each and every access point (or user's computer), and you can extend the coverage area simply by adding more wireless routers.

Who else uses this technology?
Won't sharing Wi-Fi slow down my Internet?

If you imagine the case where 5 people share one DSL connection wirelessly, then yes, large downloads by your neighbor would indeed slow down your internet.  However, Mesh Node Wifi enjoys several advanced features that specifically address this problem...

The Mesh Itself: the mesh is the composite cloud of routers communicating with each other wirelessly, and they can redirect connections dynamically to ease congestion.  That is, if one DSL connection becomes swamped, the Mesh will direct you to DSL connections that are idle.  This scheme works on the expectation that not all DSL connections within the mesh would be busy at any given time.

Quality of Service Routing or Traffic Shaping: this is a scheme for routing Internet traffic that gives higher priority to certain kinds of content (Web, email, SSH, Skype) and lower priority to other kinds (file-sharing, bit-torrent, large downloads).  Many newer broadband routers already support this style of routing, and the Mesh would do it on a larger scale to help economize the available bandwidth for all subscribers.

For answers to more questions, please see our Frequently Asked Questions page.

The Routers


We are deploying equipment from Open-Mesh.com, Engenius Technologies, and Ubiquiti Networks.  All routers are running completely Open Source firmware from Open-mesh.com.  In addition, WasabiNet is happy to support local businesses by purchasing its equipment from Business Systems Connections in Fenton, MO.

The routers are very low cost (average $50-60 each), and they may be easily mounted to existing structures, indoors and outdoors.  Even to existing rooftop antennas. With proper antenna placement, each individual node may sustain up to 10Mbits of raw bandwidth, and our goal is to offer 5Mbits at every node in the mesh.  We are using an access and bandwidth management system provided by Open-mesh.com and Coova Networks.  This system handles many technical issues and subscription/access concerns, allowing for our mesh to be very low maintenance.

There are other manufacturers of inexpensive mesh-node wifi routers, in particular FON and Meraki, and existing owners of such equipment may contact us about options for reprogramming them to work with WasabiNet!

The Mesh

The "Mesh" refers to the cloud of Wi-Fi routers, or "nodes," all working in collaboration with each other to find the shortest and fastest path for routing users' traffic.  Every node is essentially identical to one another, and all nodes will know that a small handful of them are connected to DSL, cable, fiber, etc to the provide the Internet uplinks.

Furthermore, the nodes are constantly monitoring their own wireless connections and their neighbors' to watch out for failures.  For example, if a single node is accidentally turned off, its immediate neighbors will notice this and try to route their traffic around the gap.  Likewise, if a node with a direct connection to the Internet sees that connection fail, it will then ask its neighboring nodes for a path to an alternate uplink, and redirect users appropriately.  This self-healing feature of the mesh allows for very easy installation, maintenance, an replacement of the mesh.

For those looking to read more geeky details on Mesh-Node networking, there are 2 popular implementations...
If you're curious, WasabiNet uses the OLSR algorithm in its mesh.

Backhaul Links and Expansion

Although the mesh can work to efficiently distribute wireless access over a single Wi-Fi channel at ground level, large meshes may require special "backhaul" routers with long-distance radios to distribute bandwidth from a small handful of very fast Internet connections (e.g. T3 or fiber) to strategic points in the mesh, and then redistributed throughout the mesh from those points.  When the size of the WasabiNet mesh demands, such backhaul links would be built using small, inexpensive 5.8GHz routers, e.g. the Bullet5 from Ubiquiti Networks.

Long distance antennae, i.e. to link routers which are too far apart for their standard antennas to work, may be made at very low cost using a Wasabi peas can and appropriate cables and fittings.  Instructions for building such antennas can be found here.  Nevertheless, although we love the old-school cred of cantennas, both Engenius and Ubiquiti now provide low-cost routers with extremely sensitive integrated antennas.

Finally, if the mesh grows too big for a single Wi-Fi channel to handle efficiently, then we could partition the mesh into regions, where each region broadcasts its signal on a different channel.  Each region would be linked together by a handful of high-speed 5.8GHz backhaul links.  The access points for these links could be "super-node" routers with multiple radios built in, or multiple routers ganged together.  Although this is not expected to become an issue until the mesh grows to 100-200 nodes, but it's good to plan ahead...
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