Building Large-Scale Mesh Networks Using Ubiquitous Software-Defined Radios
from the distributed,-ad-hoc,-federated,-and-self-organizing dept
A couple of years ago, we noted that one lesson from Snowden's leaks was that the NSA and GCHQ were listening in to all the major pipes and nodes that go to make up the Internet. Mesh networks seemed one way to make things harder for the snoopers, but they have been slow to develop on a scale large enough to make a difference. A fascinating article on the Wireless Week site offers tantalizing glimpses of a new generation of wireless technologies that could make meshes easy to set up and hard to monitor. The basic technology is software-defined radio (SDR):
Thanks to inexpensive open source software-defined radios (SDRs), innovators will now be able to design their own wireless protocols. These protocols will be easy to use and effective in solving concrete problems instead of broad generalizations or focusing on exceptional use cases. The Github generation of wireless engineers will be born.
As their name suggests, the big breakthrough of SDRs is that many components that were previously implemented in hardware can be recreated in software. That means they can be easily changed, which allows wide-ranging and continuing experimentation. Couple that with plummeting costs, and we could be seeing SDRs built into practically everything:
Digital signage, smart light poles, vending machines, ATMs, home appliances, and many more devices can all have an SDR in them and provide mobile broadband or other wireless solutions with licensed spectrum, as well.
From that, it might seem that SDRs are just a superior, programmable form of the Internet of Things. But here's where things get interesting:
Any device will be able to be part of a distributed ad-hoc, federated, self-organizing broadband network. Running a mobile network will be less about installing large antennas and more about automating the management of distributed networks that get built on top of third-party owned equipment.
In other words, once SDRs are cheap and commonplace, and can be found in all kinds of everyday devices, they can then be turned into the ultimate mesh network simply by tweaking their software. That avoids the current problem with mesh networks, which is that they are often hard to set up -- a barrier to their widespread use.
These SDR-based networks would have another big advantage. Since they could potentially be on a huge scale, with multiple nodes in a single home, there is potential for obfuscatory routing of the kind used by Tor. Another interesting possibility is to build the ultra-cheap SDRs into drones, and use them as part of the ad-hoc mesh networks too. None of these approaches is guaranteed to stop the NSA and friends from spying on everyone, but they certainly offer the hope of making it considerably more difficult.