Geeks Without Frontiers Pursues Wi-Fi for Everyone
Recently, you may have heard about new efforts to bring online access to regions where it has been economically nonviable before. This idea is not new, of course. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative was squarely aimed at the goal until it ran into some significant hiccups. One of the latest moves on this front comes from Geeks Without Frontiers, which has a stated goal of positively impacting one billion lives with technology over the next 10 years. The organization, sponsored by Google and The Tides Foundation, is working on low cost, open source Wi-Fi solutions for "areas where legacy broadband models are currently considered to be uneconomical."
According to an announcement from Geeks Without Frontiers:
"GEEKS expects that this technology, built mainly by Cozybit, managed by GEEKS and I-Net Solutions, and sponsored by Google, Global Connect, Nortel, One Laptop Per Child, and the Manna Energy Foundation, will enable the development and rollout of large-scale mesh Wi-Fi networks for atleast half of the traditional network cost. This is a major step in achieving the vision of affordable broadband for all."
It's notable that One Laptop Per Child is among the sponsors of this initiative. The organization has open sourced key parts of its software platform, and could have natural synergies with a global Wi-Fi effort.
“By driving down the cost of metropolitan and village scale Wi-Fi networks, millions more people will be able to reap the economic and social benefits of significantly lower cost Internet access,” said Michael Potter, one of the founders of the GEEKS initiative.
The Wi-Fi technology that GEEKS is pursuing is mesh networking technology. Specifically, open80211s (o11s), which implements the AMPE (Authenticated Mesh Peering Exchange) enabling multiple authenticated nodes to encrypt traffic between themselves. Mesh networks are essentially widely distributed wireless networks based on many repeaters throught a specific location.
You can read much more about the open80211s standard here. The GEEKS initiative has significant backers, and with sponsorship from OLPC, will probably benefit from good advice on the topic of bringing advanced technologies to disadvantaged regions of the world. The effort will be worth watching.