The Mesh Potato

The immediate practical uses of this technology, as outlined in the article I read, include disaster relief zones, where relief workers can set up low cost, reusable telcom networks without needing much pre-existing infrastructure at all. But as the name of the organization producing the Potato’s suggests, there are also various uses in remote villages. Simply setting up low-cost infrastructure might allow villagers to communicate with one another easier within their village, allowing news to spread better or allowing communities to feel more connected.

Better yet, expand your mindset from just a local village as you may be perceiving it, and into the larger notion of a, “land,” for example, “Taita land,” or, “Masai land,” in Kenya where population density is on a cusp: the geographic coverage is large enough to make, “human networking,” difficult and time consuming, but not dense enough for the privately-held telecom providers to bring their infrastructure in because it’s not profitable. Here, locally-owned mesh networking could enable distance learning similar to the Australian School of Air or distance medicine.

There are also benefits to larger telcoms. If enough of these systems come into place, then the large Telcoms need only provide the final piece of the puzzle to global interconnectivity, be it a larger-scale radio (for example, cell tower), or a satellite or fiber-optic Internet connection. In theory, on a mesh network, only one of the meshed-devices need connect to the, “final hop,” onto the complete network, and the rest of the mesh devices jump on too. One satellite connection can now provide I Internet for all of the meshed devices. The implementation cost for the larger provider will be significant reduced, though I doubt this would reflect in the less service fees for the users, but at least it would entice the telcoms to bring infrastructure to more remote places (and in my opinion, grid infrastructure is ultimately good… for now…).

If this is all reminding you of the One Laptop Per Child Project, it’s because this principle is also at the core of that program (which is arguably the first program to attempt widespread proliferation of practical mesh networking). The major difference is that the laptops are self-contained mesh devices and computers together. The Mesh Potato is simply a mesh device that enables other devices to join the mesh network: from computers to IP-phones to land-line phones and mobile phones (I think, due to their supporting the GSM standard… but don’t quote me). It seems to me it would be easier to convince people this is a good idea, when there seems less lock-in than buying, “just a laptop.” OLPC is very targeted, very specific. With the Potato’s focus on infrastructure, villages can choose to build on top of it what they want.

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One response to “The Mesh Potato

  1. David P

    I’m trying to come up with a Tragedy of the Commons argument against the mesh potato.

    And what do potatoes have to do with this anyways?

    I would think that some devices would become unusably clogged with network traffic. And also, why would a Kenyan want to buy a $50 device when they could buy a $20 device to work with the infrastructure that Safaricom “should” be building?