State of the Network

This is an organic page that reflects the current state of Philly Mesh and the growing network it maintains. This page is subject to change as the project advances.

Network State

The heart of the Philly Mesh network is a software package (or networking suite, if you’d like to call it) called cjdns. Cjdns handles routing and addressing through implementing an IPv6 network using public-key cryptography. Essentially cjdns creates a secure, robust logical network with privacy in mind. Cjdns doesn’t care what interface you run it on, and will create networks over wireless links, Ethernet, fiber, and even the existing Internet, making it incredibly flexible for many types of deployments. We are doing most of our experimentation currently with wireless links over the IEEE 802.11s protocol amendment for wireless mesh networking. 802.11s handles ad hoc network creation and is comparable to similar tools such as batman-adv and OLSR, primarily used by the Friefunk project. With our software stack, cjdns does the heavy-duty work of secure routing and addressing (logical), while 802.11s facilitates the wireless (physical) mesh.

Many other localized mesh groups (or “meshlocals”) use a similar setup, and our ultimate goal is interoperability with other groups. While mesh networks are currently physically contained to certain geographic regions, we hope to see the distance between them shorten over time. One group we collaborate with extensively is Toronto Mesh, though there are roughly a dozen other groups we are in regular contact with.

Within Philadelphia and the surrounding area, we are recruiting as many people as possible to set up nodes they can run perpetually at their residence, place of business, or community centers. In these early days of creating a physical network, those who want to join might not be able to find other node operators physically close by. Don’t let this be a deterrent! With cjdns, you can tunnel your mesh traffic over your existing Internet connection and get full access to the network (a wide mesh network known as Hyperboria) while also cementing a location for other mesh enthusiasts in the greater Philadelphia area to easily connect to. Once two or more people running nodes are physically close enough to connect wirelessly, the Internet tunnel connection can be dropped in favor of wireless links (or added in addition to it, the choice is yours)! While we are called Philly Mesh, we don’t discriminate geographically. We have members in the city, the suburbs, and surrounding states. Come say hi!

We are currently looking at ways to expand the network and make network access easier for an end user. Much of our success has been through development of mesh nodes based on the Raspberry Pi, and other low-cost single board computers like the Orange Pi. Those interested can check out the prototype-cjdns-pi and mesh-orange projects started by Toronto Mesh. These projects offer mostly turn-key solutions to set up ad hoc mesh nodes simply by running a script.

If any of this interests you, or you would like to learn more, get in touch!

Next Steps

There are a lot of things that are being discussed or considered for improving the network. A sample of them are listed below, in no particular order.

  • Grow the network, get more people setting up nodes and keeping them set up.
  • Make connecting to the network easier for less-technical enthusiasts.
  • Enhance community outreach!
  • Devise a wireless backbone. Do you like playing with powerful wireless radios and creating point-to-point links to buildings around the city? How about worrying about all the fun stuff like signal strength, line-of-sight obstruction, or grounding? Do you have access to a rooftop where you can run hardware?
  • Design the next generation of turn-key nodes. Let’s create packaged devices that are as easy to use as plugging in and turning on.
  • Standardize our egress traffic. Cjdns nodes can allow themselves to be exit-points for Internet traffic to exit the mesh network, but it would be ideal to not depend on local ISPs to get those done. Do you know of or have connections to and IXPs (Internet Exchange Points) in the area? Maybe you operate a datacenter in the area and have bandwidth to spare?
  • Experiment with other mesh networking technologies. Maybe you’d like the experiment with Hamnet, AltheaMesh, or Libremesh. Not only is it good to approach mesh networking from other perspectives, but research here could help with interoperability down the road.

Further Reading

As always, there is a lot you can do to learn more about mesh networking or networking in general. Here are a few selections.