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What exactly is a mesh network?

There is a good deal of debate regarding the exact definition of a mesh network. A "complete mesh" describes a network topology in which every node in the network is connected to every other node. Some define a mesh as a network in which every node is connected to at least two other nodes. Current networks are typically 'hub and spoke' models that centralize control in the hands of large ISPs and governments. Mesh networks are more widely distributed, decentralizing control and authority and as such increasing the resiliency of the network.

What about privacy and security?

Digital privacy and security are complex topics. Traffic routed over public networks is passed through a VPN (Virtual Private Network) - which essentially means that all traffic originates from the same IP address. This provides some level of security. However, wireless traffic is notoriously easy to sniff, and so we encourage participants on the networks to learn and practice good security practices. To this end, we host monthly cryptoparties on Third Sundays, where anyone is welcome to come and learn how to encrypt their hard drives, mobile devices, email, and chats, along with more general Q&A for anyone with questions and/or answers.

Is it really free?

Given that building a network requires building infrastructure, there are still some costs to running a node. The main cost involves purchasing a router, which runs about $60-80 for a Ubiquiti Picostation or Loco (spreads wi-fi at a radius of up to two blocks) and ~$75 for an additional Ubiquiti Nanobridge, Nanostation, or Loco M5 (creating long-distance backbone links, aka "the spine of the mesh"). See also power costs.

I'm not a techie but I'd like to help - how can I get involved?

There are tons of moving parts to this project, most of them non-technical! We need artists and graphic designers to create flyers and infographics, people teaching classes and workshops on networking, folks mounting nodes on rooftops, community outreach volunteers, bloggers, photographers, documentarians, and everything in between and beyond!

I already have an extra wifi router, can I use it for the mesh?

You _might_ be able to use it to extend the signal of your home node but we only support one model of router as the home node. This may seem odd since many people see OpenWRT as a way to re-purpose old hardware. We thought so too in the beginning, but after a couple of years of working on this it has become clear that:

  1. New 802.11n Atheros-based dual-band routers are so much better than old hardware
  2. Even fairly high quality previous generation Atheros hardware like Ubiquiti Airmax routers really underperform
  3. New hardware is cheap
  4. Having old 802.11g or 802.11b hardware on the mesh slows down the network
  5. Supporting lots of different hardware is a lot of work

We are now supporting just one good and affordable dual-band router as the home node. We are then working to support many different devices as extender nodes to extend the signal from the home node. This means that all nodes in our mesh will have at least two radios and many will have more. This fixes many of the problems that people bring up when they're talking about the down-sides of mesh networks.

What are home nodes? What are extender nodes?

You can learn about them here.