Friday, May 15, 2015

Global Internet Access with Lightbulbs and Mesh Networking

What if the world was connected together by wireless enabled Lightbulbs and mesh networking software?

A problem worth solving

Many amazing people, groups and companies are working on how to better provide Internet and network access to the masses. Some ideas currently in development by the likes of Google, Facebook and SpaceX (to name a few) are: low orbit satellites, solar powered plains, hot air balloons and fiber to the home. All of these have merit and I applaud them for what they are trying to do and ultimately will do. But I think there is another idea to explore.

The internet isn't everywhere

One way to extend the Internet's reach is through distributed mesh networks. According to wikipedia, mesh networking is defined as ".. a network topology in which each node relays data for the network. All mesh nodes cooperate in the distribution of data in the network. Mesh networks can relay messages using either a flooding technique or a routing technique." 

Let me explain how mesh networks can help. Take my home Internet connection that is provided by my cable company. Anything within wifi range of my router (100 feet?) has internet access. However, if I leave my house, I no longer have wifi access. If there was were hundreds or thousands of devices in the city that formed a mesh network, I would be able to use the mesh network to reach my home's Internet connection no matter where I went in the city. Or, if other people around the city offered to connect their Internet connections to the mesh network, I would be able to use the mesh network to reach the closet or best Internet connection based on where I was. 


Let's look at some simple facts. Lightbulb sockets are everywhere. Some lightbulbs today have wifi. Some have computers in them creating 'Smart' lightbulbs. Some are energy efficient. I've recently read about a lightbulb product that has a built in speaker and bluetooth. This allows people to use lightbulbs in their house as a house wide speaker system. 

What if we built lightbulbs for the purpose of acting as nodes in mesh networks? What if we put software code in these lightbulbs that join and create mesh networks automatically so that all someone needs to do is screw it in a socket? What if people, laptops, phones and IoT devices could freely connect to this light bulb enabled mesh network to communicate with each other and the internet? What if we put these lightbulbs all over the world? What if people, organizations, and Internet service providers connected their Internet connections to these mesh networks so that the mesh networks has gateways to the Internet? 

We would have a series of mesh networks throughout the world that would together bring the Internet to the masses and to the billions of IoT devices that will be coming in the near future. 

Beyond Lightbulbs

Lightbulbs are just one way to create mesh networks. What if a bunch of other things do the same things: Cars, drones, consumer devices (phones, watches, laptops), home routers, artificial birds, etc. Some people are already working on these things which is amazing to see. We just need more of them and for all of the efforts to integrate, versus creating a series of isolated mesh networks.

Privacy and Security

Besides basic Internet connectivity, others have privacy and security concerns. Software and protocols exists today on mesh networks that provide encryption, protection and anonymous network access services to users. These features can easily be enabled by the mesh provider or by the end user through overlay networks.

Path forward

Communities are popping up that are organizing the creation and expansion of these mesh networks. (My local organization is  It would be great to speed up this process with major investment in the hardware rollout and node creation (lightbulbs, cars etc). In the ideal world, governments, companies, communities, individuals and organizations all work together in order to roll out mesh networks that interact freely with one another. 

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