Lately, I’ve been thinking about Mesh Networks and their potential to unlock innovative solutions through the decentralized network they create and represent. There are various use applications of mesh networks that entrepreneurs and startups have made into digital products.
One of the first products that received it’s fifteen minutes of fame was Firechat, which in September 2014 was used by protestors in Hong Kong’s “umbrella movement”. The app let users send messages to one another without cellular data or a wifi internet connection, relying on bluetooth and wifi radios in phones to form a “mesh network” of users. It allowed them to no longer have to rely on the infrastructure put in place by the telecommunications companies as it would make their movement reliant on the telecommunication industry which could be flip the switch and disconnect them. But it goes beyond protestors, as it can be a substitute for when there is a signal outage due to technical downtime or the system was strained with too much traffic.
The team behind Firechat further released what they called Meshkit which would allow other enterprising individuals to use that same core technology for other use cases. For instance, sharing music or files across a decentralized network, which is exactly what a Brazilian startup did, which has now amassed millions of users. In areas where data plans are unaffordable to the population Mesh Networks represent an alternative way of transferring data.
It has also been in the mainstream thanks to the HBO hit show, “Silicon Valley” where the original Pied Piper team is pivoting to a mesh network that would be “Internet 2.0”.
If we are to take a step forward and think about the possibilities of such Mesh Networks in future scenarios such as planetary exploration missions when we humans go to Mars and the Red planet initially lacks telecommunication infrastructure. The Mesh Network would be able to serve as a form of communications for the team on the planet without the need for communication satellites (as long as they are within range of one another)… primitive radio technology would also work as well, for voice communications at least, but for data, the Mesh Network might be ideal for starters.
Marina Azcarate, who runs marketing for Open Garden (the parent company of MeshKit) clarified that Firechat was initially planned as a proof of concept that unexpectedly caught fire with the public. The real goal all along, she said, was to create a way for other app-makers to build mesh networks themselves.
“It was a sign of the need for this kind of network—we can’t be dependant all the time on centralized cell networks… All the ways of communicating are going through a telco, so there must be other ways to do it.”