Can This Readily Available Technology Extend the Internet’s Reach?

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In a world of ever-growing networks, increasing Wi-Fi hotspots, and a greater number of devices that connect online wirelessly, the ability to access the Internet everywhere seems like it would be a given. Yet gaps in Internet access persist throughout the world.

Proposed solutions to these gaps range from drones to satellites to municipalities establishing their own broadband networks. Another proposed solution is one that is gaining attention lately: the mesh network. GigaOm just published an opinion piece by Open Garden CEO Micha Benoliel, in which he suggests that mesh networks are a potential solution to connectivity issues.

A mesh network is a one based on the connectivity of devices themselves to other devices to build up a network instead of relying on an Internet service provider to connect devices through its network. (Harvard University’s Berkman Center posted a video on YouTube that explains the concept.) The more devices in the system, the stronger the mesh network gets and the further it can extend. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is the system that Open Garden’s off-the-grid, Internet-free messaging app FireChat is based on.

Benoliel’s argument does have some merit. Mesh networks have their benefits. They are often community-built decentralized networks that could be useful to more rural communities that may be too far out to access an urban center’s Internet infrastructure. Plus, the technology to build these networks is often easily available.