Mesh/Interviews with other meshers

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Interviews by Gordon Cook

Interesting questions to ask

Some questions we may want to ask existing groups.

  • What kind of hardware do you use? Do you limit to only certain models, or only a, b, g or n, or only 2.4 ghz or 5 ghz?
  • What do you do about wifi channels? Is the whole mesh running on a single channel. If not, how do you bridge the different segments on the mesh running on different channels?

From the #freifunk channel on

<Juul> I noticed that freifunk community profiles don't contain the wifi channel. How do the routers decide which channel to use? Just based on the channel of the network with the specified ssid? I noticed a node on the freifunk map that had something like as its ssid. Isn't it really problematic to have different nodes using different channels?
<alice> Juul: sure, the local community must agree on one channel
<bob> Juul: if no channel is given in the profile cannel 1 is used
  • Do you use IPv4 or IPv6? Why?
  • How do you assign IP addresses? It seems like DHCP doesn't really work for OLSR, but for batman-adv there is a hack to make it function.
  • How do you do mapping of nodes? Is that part of the mesh also decentralized (Freifunk uses a central server).
  • How do you handle firmware upgrade. Do you rely on users to update their firmwares or do you have some other mechanism?
  • Does your mesh attempt to use multiple internet gateways "simultaneously", e.g. by allowing each connection to a new server to go through a new internet gateway, or by using tricks like splitting http downloads across multiple TCP connections and downloading in chunks?
  • Do you use squid proxy or similar on internet gateway nodes?
  • How do you handle bandwidth shaping / quality of service on internet gateway nodes?

Notes from talking to personal telco

Notes from talking with scott garman at sudo room on May 15th 2014.

They don't limit internet sharing and have had very few issues. They don't VPN connections (except for IPv6 connections through hurricane electric's free tunnel thing).

They use OpenVPN and perl on the nodes. This means they have some trouble running on only 32 mb of ram. They mostly use OLSR but some nodes use batman-adv in small clusters.

They don't have very many linked nodes. Mostly they're just enabling internet sharing. One of their problems is flat terrain and many tall trees. They've used 900 mhz in some locations to better pass through foliage.

They haven't had any issues with abuse. They use MAC blocks on the node that is experiencing problems to block the problematic client from that specific node only. They've only had two instances were they client repeatedly changed their MAC to re-gain access and they just kept banning the new MAC addresses until the users gave up.

They haven't had any issues with Comcast with regards to the sharing of internet access.

As I understand it, they seem to configure the nodes for the specific scenario required. E.g. some nodes are just plain access points and some point to point nodes don't run the meshing protocols and some small clusters run a different meshing protocol.

They use cacti/munin + snmpd on the nodes for monitoring. They also have the nodes transmit their log files to a central server.

Seattle Meshnet Interviews

These are anonymized IRC logs of chats with Seattle Meshnet folks. Alice is Juul (talk), Paul is Dan Ryan.

Interview 1 - April 2013

* Now talking on #seattlemeshnet
* Topic for #seattlemeshnet is: Seattle Meshnet | | We're not always around, so be patient
* Topic for #seattlemeshnet set by at Thu Mar 21 12:01:16 2013
<Alice> Hiya
<Alice> I'm from the 510pen (five-one-open) Oakland mesh group
<Alice> What kind of solution are you thinking about using for longer range directional links?
<Alice> I see that you're using Ubiquity Nanostations
<Bob> hello
* Bob pokes Paul Eve 
<Alice> do you have any idea how far two of those pointed at each other can reach, line of sight?
* anon gives something to other anon
<Bob> I don't
<Alice> We're playing around with small satellite dishes right now
<Bob> 15km according to
<Bob> Paul would be the man to talk too
<Alice> ok
<Alice> that sounds almost too good to be true
<Alice> perhaps that's in ideal conditions
<Bob> I'll see if I can get them back here
<Alice> thanks :)
<Bob> Alice, they also have a subreddit
<Carol> Title for - The Seattle Meshnet Project
<Bob> I'm not actually in Seattle myself
<Eve> ok
<Eve> uhh
<Eve> i have no scrollback
<Bob> one sec I will ezcrypt
<Eve> mk
<Eve> oh thought you said Portland meshnet
<Eve> hey juul
<Alice> hey Eve 
<Eve> re: longer range directional links
<Eve> proly nanostations
<Eve> we've got quite a few of them
<Alice> cool
<Alice> how'd you get funding?
<Eve> Several members just owned them beforehand
<Alice> ah
<Alice> so you think two nanostations pointed at each-other will be able to give decent link quality in an urban environment over 1 mile or so?
<Eve> if they're up high enough
<Eve> However, TBH this is more Paul's field of expertise
<Alice> ok
<Alice> we're looking at using small recycled satellite dishes with usb wifi adapters in the point of focus
<Eve> Bob, i presume you texted Dan too?
<Alice> the gain on those thinks are great
<Eve> yeah
<Alice> have you talked to some of the people running big established meshes, like freifunk or the athens mesh?
<Eve> nope
<Eve> at least not me
<Alice> ok
<Bob> Eve, yes
<Eve> When seattle gets more hardware up I proly will
<Eve> but i do more software stuff
<Eve> we did a group buy of MirkoTiks
<Eve> powerful 5GHz omnidirectional things
<Alice> ah
<Alice> have you decided on a mesh routing protocol?
<Alice> ok, I must admit I haven't looked much at CJDNS
<Alice> so, given my limited understanding of CJDNS routing, it seems to me that packets aren't necessarily routed in the most optimal way, given a mesh network?
<Alice> CJDNS routing is based only on the addresses right? and the addresses are not linked to physical position?
<Alice> ah, upon further reading it seems like it _is_ routing based on physical proximity as well
<Alice> guess I'll have to read the code to really understand it
<Eve> shit sorry
<Eve> got distracted
<Eve> yeah
<Eve> check #projectmeshnet, #cjdns for questions specifically about CJDNS
<Eve> i gotta go, dinner
<Eve> cya
<Alice> no problem, thanks :)

Interview 2 - March 31st 2013

* Now talking on #seattlemeshnet
* Topic for #seattlemeshnet is: Seattle Meshnet | | We're not always around, so be patient
* Topic for #seattlemeshnet set by at Thu Mar 21 12:01:16 2013
* anon has quit
* anon has joined
<Paul> Hia Alice!
<Alice> hey Paul :)
* anon gives something to other anon
* anon gives something to other anon
<Paul> how goes it?
<Alice> good good. just applied for some funding for our mesh project
* Alice crosses all the fingers
<Alice> i was told to talk to you yesterday
<Alice> i was wondering what kind of actual range you can get with two ubiquiti nanostations pointed at each other in an urban environment
<Alice> line of sight
<Alice> I've heard that buildings/trees/etc close to the line of sight will still interfere. Honestly I don't know much about how the radio waves propagate and how much clear space is needed along a path.
<Alice> your hardware wiki page says 15 km, but that sounds too good to be true
<Merlin> Alice: Yeah, the range is a bit insane
<Merlin> Although trees and buildings will effect the 2.4 and 5Ghz ranges quite a bit
<Paul> yeah
<Alice> how can the range be so great when it's only a 160 mW device?
<Paul> trees and hills are what prevent the range from being 15km
<Paul> 160mw?
<Paul> are you taking about one of those old Nanostation 2 rdios?
<Paul> *radios
<Alice> the nanostation 5 loco says it's 22 dBm
<Alice> for 24 Mbps and below
<Paul> I know that a Nanostation M5 has a lot more kick than that
<Paul> Yeah, the nanostation 5 loco was new in 2006
<Paul> look at its successor, the Nanostation M5 loco
<Paul> it does 23dbm iirc
<Alice> the M9 does 28 dBm
<Paul> I still have a pair of Nanostation 2 locos in use, but they barely make it 2 blocks with all the RF interference out there today
<Alice> cool
<Paul> yeah
<Alice> have you experimented with parabolic dishes?
<Paul> the M5 & M2 do 27dbm or so
<Paul> yeah, a bit
<Paul> pair a nanostation with an old satellite dish, a metal strainer, or an old wok, and you can go even further
* anon gives something to other anon
<Alice> ah cool
<Alice> thanks :)
<Alice> we were thinking about using usb wifi adapters with woks and maybe a raspberry pi
<Alice> not woks, i mean satellite dishes
<Alice> there are a lot of directv and similar small dishes available for free
<Alice> but getting them high enough might be a problem
<Alice> it's a lot easier to put a nanostation on a tall pole
<Paul> yeah
<Paul> exactly
<Paul> whereabouts are you located btw?
<Alice> Oakland, CA
<Paul> mmm
<Paul> To give you an idea of an Omnitik and a nanostation's coverage, take a look at this
<Arthur>  it looks to me like this project does not use cjdns.  Is that right?
<Carol> Title for - Page not found «  Project Byzantium
<Paul> yep, thats correct
<Arthur> ok, thanks
<Alice> byzantium uses babel
<Paul> haxwithaxe has requested that we add a few features to cjdns before it gets baked in to byzantium
<Paul> And we added those features as of about 2 months ago
<Paul> cjdns is planned for v0.4a
<Arthur> ah, so it may eventually be included in byzantium.  kuhl.
<Paul> yep
<Alice> Paul, cool. what am I looking at?
<Paul> Alice: oh, its a coverage map of one of our nodes
<Paul> it has an omnitik at the center, and is assuming your using a Nanostation M5 to connect in to it
<Alice> ah awesome
<Alice> ah awesome
<Alice> Paul, how high up was the omnitik and nanostation?
<Paul> oh, the omnitik is on a 20ft flagpole from Harbor Freight Tools
<Paul> and the map assumes you can get a Nanostation (or equivalent radio) up 20ft on your end
<Alice> is the map measured or calculated?
<Paul> Calculated, although from testing it seems to be fairly accurate
<Alice> nice! it was calculated using one of the free ligowave tools?
<Paul> yea
<Alice> cool.
<Alice> thanks for all the info
<Alice> I'm looking at the Ubiquiti Airgrid M5
<Alice> it looks pretty awesome
<Paul> yea, although its single polarity
<Alice> isn't that a good thing?
<Paul> not really
<Paul> its half the speed of a Nanostation
<Alice> ah
<Paul> 300mbps vs 150mbps is a pretty big diffrence
<Paul> although in practice its really more like 100mbps versus 60mbps
<Alice> that's better than i expected
<Alice> how did you decide on the omnitik?
<Alice> and is it the UPA-5HnD ?
<Paul> Nah, its the U-5HnD, the only additional feature on the UPA version is POE out, and it doesn't work too well
<Paul> and the fact that we got the U-5HnD's for $30 a pop was also very helpful
<Alice> oh, how'd you manage that?
<Alice> if we get this grant, we'd be looking to buy maybe 100 of them
<Alice> another question: are you putting openwrt on the omnitiks? 
<Paul> Oh, we found a seller who was looking to get ri of them
<Paul> *rid
<Alice> ok
<Alice> would you still recommend them at ~$80 which seems to be their retails price?
<Paul> he still has 60 or 70 of them though, although I wouldn't buy 100 of them or base my network on them exclusively
<Alice> ok
<Paul> and they can't run OpenWRT at this point, although they have more than enough ram, flash, and cpu power to run OpenWRT
<Alice> ok
<Alice> are any of your group hacking on that?
<Paul> yea
<Paul> they also work down to 4.8ghz and up to 6.075ghz according to Eve 
<Paul> so that is moderately interesting
<Eve> that's just what the WebUI said
<Eve> no idea if it actually does it
<Alice> yeah, probably not a good idea to base a mesh on any one type of hardware
<Paul> yea
<Paul> get a mix of Freestations, Nanosations, Omnitiks, and whatever else is cheap and robust, at least that is what we've been doing

Altermundi Interviews (Argentina)

These excerpts are from Gordon Cook's interview on 6 May 2013 with Nico, one of the leaders of Altermundi and Buenos Aires Libre:

Nico: I started with Buenos Aires libre. This was the free network project in the city of Buenos Aires. It still exists. I devoted a lot of time to that project and built one of the first working nodes of the network. The problem in Buenos Aires was that it was too much of a geek network.

COOK Report: Do you mean: by techies and only for techies?

Nico: Yes exactly. We call them "ping" networks – that is to say networks where geeks "ping" each other. But also networks where nothing else happens. Nothing social and no interesting content or services. I worked on their behalf for quite some time and then I got involved in the free culture movement. This included work with people who were fighting against intellectual property laws. We worked together trying to reduce restrictions and focused on a modification of Argentine intellectual property laws that were really old and out of date.

COOK Report: When was the big Argentinean debt crisis?

Nico: it was 2000 and 2001 and everyone was out in the street.

COOK Report: did this influence you to move away from the "ping" and more to network as social media?

Nico: I was already "there." I had been involved for a long while with things that had more to do with the social stuff – for example –I have been involved for a long time with the eco-village movement. I had lived in an eco village for a while and then founded a new one where I lived for five years and worked a lot with appropriate technology and renewable energy sources. Natural building and architecture. Sustainable living. I began to want to merge all these things.

The Goal of a Society Based on the Freedom of Peer-to-Peer Collaboration

I started thinking about what does everything that I do have in common? Free software, free networks, perma-culture; eco-villages, people who fight to protect local seeds. I came up with a system to measure these things.

The system we live in is on designed for concentration in the hands of a few while all these other alternatives are in the direction of collaboration among peers and the freedom that comes from that. The goal seems to be freedom built on peer-to-peer collaboration. I found that this concept was central to what was going on within local exchanges, eco-villages and so on.

Consequently I started an NGO called Altermundi in 2004 as an idea to focus on building a peer-to-peer, local and sustainable economy where people could act locally and think globally. We need to act locally but do so everywhere and consequently, we must maintain and control our own local communications. With the emphasis on local action it becomes the inverse of globalization. I started working with idea at least eight years ago but the actual Alter Mundi NGO organization was founded only two years ago oriented very much along the lines of the other free networks projects. The charter for the NGO clearly states that the main objective is to facilitate this new paradigm based on peer-to-peer collaboration as opposed to concentration and control. ... We do for ourselves a lot of what, in North America or Europe, you would just purchase as commercial solutions. For example we use home routers that are usually not enabled for Power over Ethernet. We modify them internally by soldering a couple of cables to make them power over Ethernet. For no additional money, we do mounting of antennas and the nodes. The advantage of power over ethernet is that you need only a single cable from you computer to where ever the radio and its antenna is located. That cable carries both your data and power. Otherwise you use four wires for data and four for power. You can buy routers made for this kind of outdoor operation, but they are much more expensive than the home routers we upgrade.

AlterMundi is an organization that aims for the emergence of a new paradigm based on freedom gained through collaboration among peers. We explore different manifestations of these peer-to-peer alternatives and in particular we do a great deal of work in relation to Wireless Community Networks. We have developed a Wireless Community Network model that we call MiniMaxi.

Editor: Click on mini maxi for access to the detailed altermundii handbook and planning and installation guide. According to the guide: "The guiding principle of mni maxi is to achieve maximum results with minimal resources. This model focuses on a low economic cost and low complexity of installation and operation, enabling their high versatility and ease of deployment."

MiniMaxi is based on very low-cost, multi-radio mesh nodes running the AlterMesh firmware, which automatically configures the mesh network. The firmware can be customized using a web tool we call the Chef[3]. We also provide tunnel broker service for community networks that don't have native IPv6 connection. Several network projects in South America have already adopted the tools we have developed.

Nico: In Quintana we invite our neighbors to come to the place where we build our routers and antennas. When someone wants to connect to the network we invite them to come and spend a few days where we teach them what they need to know. Starting for example with soldering a home router to convert it to power over Ethernet, how to build the boxes for the nodes how to wrap the antennas and so on. Finally we try to do the installation work with the family so that everyone will be involved in the process. We usually ask them to invite us for food. That is the exchange. This way we get to know everyone in town.

We make a human network that works underneath and acts as a foundation for the digital network. This gives psychological support to the digital network because the captive portal, that is the web page you see when you want to browse the internet, is like a home page that you cannot avoid. ...

COOK Report: What else is going on with these kinds of networks else where in Latin America?

Nico: There were many geeks for geeks projects. I have had contact with most of them I think. There are two or there in Argentina. In Uruguay there is Montevideo libre that is very much related to Buenos Aires Libre. It is the same model. It is also the same firmware development. Then there was another project in Bogota.

The meaning of AlterMundi’s motto is a technology foundation for another possible world. We are now in the second wave of free networks mounted on experiences from previous projects. For example Buenos Aires Libre still exists but many of the people who were part of it are now operating through AlterMundi. and we are working in faraway places like Quintana or other small towns in Cordoba. ... Many of us have decided to take what we have learned and move away from the big cities in order to start projects in smaller places. When someone says to me "I like your ideas, but how do I do this in a city like Buenos Aries?" my answer is first you need to leave Buenos Aries. There are too many entrenched interests and too many things that are already embedded and very difficult to challenge. In small places you can design your own solution and make sure it’s fully compatible with local desires. ... Nico: I think they are beginning to realize. The laptops were given out without economic distinction. However the children of the most wealthy citizens did not receive them because they do not go to public schools. Having all these computers will linux installed on them represents an enormous opportunity to do stuff. It makes a huge difference because n a town like Quintana I know that if I set up an asterisk server I can run a Voice over IP network for the whole town because basically every household will have a school laptop.

With these laptops already spread it become possible to go into and organize a small town to join forces and buy the equipment together hat is necessary for basic voice service and basic internet. We look for viable links, do the links and pay for he needed equipment as a collective. This program, these procedures are perfectly applicable to every small town in all of Argentina. I think it would work in many places because small tows are being abandoned. The world cannot become more and more urbanized and remain stable. I think that making small towns more interesting places to live could help to maintain a more reasonable balance.

If the town is really connected. If it can internally solve its energy needs. If it can have a local currency and a strong local economy along with local media and communication – under such conditions, I believe that living in a small town is much much more interesting than in a big, "secure" and expensive city.

COOK Report: Well I think you probably represent the most advanced expression of wireless for the people in Latin America,

Nico: Yes I think so