AgoraFest’s Mesh Network

AgoraFest happens at Villa Maria, which is a retreat in Frontenac, Minnesota. There’s a lot of things to like about the location but Internet connectivity isn’t one of them. For the most part the only Internet accessibility is in the castle. None of the cabins have Internet connectivity and you’re out of luck getting it via your phone unless you have Verizon.

Because we’re modern day agorists we want Internet connectivity. After all, how else can we use Bitcoin or quickly look up the spot price of silver and gold? To solve this I was charged with creating a mesh network.

Mesh networks, for those of you who don’t know, are networks where each node is capable of connecting directly to every other node. The advantages of this kind of setup the lack of central failure points. It also allows you to expand a wireless network as far as you have nodes.

Commotion Wireless is a firmware built on OpenWRT that aims to make setting up mesh networks simple. I loaded this firmware onto a series of Ubiquiti NanoStations and PicoStations. The NanoStations are directional and have an advertised maximum range of five kilometers and the PicoStations are omnidirectional and have an advertised maximum range of 500 meters. Both are outdoor rated so weather conditions such as rain don’t require us to shutdown the network.

In all we used four NanoStations and five PicoStations for the setup. With this setup we were able to extend the Internet connectivity at the castle to all three cabins and a tent we setup for flying drones and launching model rockets. Speeds weren’t great because the Internet service at the Villa isn’t fast but we managed to get a reliable connection spread across a pretty wide area.

Setting up a mesh network wasn’t only a good idea technically, it helped demonstrate the feasibility of mesh networks to attendees. I gave a talk about mesh networks at AgoraFest, which included my overarching plan to get networks to establish mesh networks and eventually interconnect them to bypass centralized Internet service providers. In other words I want what Guifi has accomplished in Catalonia. Obviously that will take a great deal of convincing, resources, and effort but there’s no better place to find a group of willing people than AgoraFest.