Dr Paul on Serval Batphone and travelling…

Changi Airport

I am sitting in Changi Airport, Singapore, on my way to the International Summit for Community Wireless Networks, and I have had one of those aha moments about how Serval can help people communicate.

You see, I have just finished talking to my wife by telephone, having called our home number as though I were still at home in Adelaide, because I have a SIP client on my phone, and the airport has free WiFi Internet.  This natural convenience and simplicity is what Serval’s DNA brings to mesh networks.

Thousands of kilometres from home, my phone knew where it belonged, and made a simple, call to home, and it didn’t cost $4 a minute.

One day in the not too distant future, it is my hope and belief that practically anyone, rich or poor, will be able to do the same, and that through the Serval Project, I will have played a part.  I feel unspeakably privileged and blessed to be in this position.

But back to the present, even in the affluent parts of the world, it is usually only such centres of intense economic activity like airports and shopping centres that have blanket WiFi coverage.  Even then, my wife and I discovered, the coverage is still spotty.  This is because infrastructure costs money.

WiFi access points cost money, and the cables to hook them up cost money, so there aren’t as many as you would need to completely cover the airport with a strong signal.

But I am confident that the connections that carry the data from those access points to the internet are nowhere near capacity most of the time: they could support more devices, if only they could reach them.

If the WiFi infrastructure here in the airport supported meshing, then every device in the building would be relaying signals, and there WOULD be a strong signal blanketing the entire complex.  And it wouldn’t have cost the airport a cent more.  It is all about smarter, more resilient infrastructure.

That is the magic of mesh networking.  It uses the latent capacity for every device in the network to function as both phone, laptop or whatever, and also as infrastructure.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how this can transform access to telephony and internet in places that unlike Changi Airport, cannot afford to provide even a weak signal over the whole complex.

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