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Reporters' Roundtable Ep. 126: Mesh NetworksHow and why we're going to build unbreakable, unjammable smartphone networks.
Welcome to reporters' roundtable I'm Rick Newman in San Francisco -- -- -- to indulge me in covering. One of my favorite technology topics. Which is mesh networking. The connection between your wireless devices in the global communications network is a tenuous thing. Wi-Fi links are great when they -- accounted spent a lot of time out of range and cellular links they're dependent on commercial and surprisingly vulnerable cell towers. While few of us in the developed world have experienced a critical lack of connectivity and analyze it can happen at any time. And it can be life threatening. During a natural disaster the communications infrastructure and failed due to power outages or panic driven over use. When a repressive government threatens -- population usually the first thing they try to control user Citizens Communications with each other and the outside world. Mesh networks in -- are more robust than point to point communications in a mesh network any device with the connection and share that connection with other devices. It's hard to shut down or sensor mesh network like strangling it just one point. It's also hard to spy and what's happening on a mesh network which is one reason the technologies used for military communications group. Can mesh networks make our existing Wi-Fi and cellular networks more robots cheaper and safer and can they give voice to the oppressed to the sensor. Today we're looking at the latest mesh technology products in the interest in places they could take the communications industry. Our guest today. Are too long time experts in mesh networking technology first. 33 Krishna. Who's the founding CTO of the mesh networking company Petro posts which was just acquired by the power infrastructure company -- BB -- -- you. Up now that street has left for a post he's trying to bring mesh technology to people a round the world we're going to discuss what that means as the show goes on -- -- and welcome thank you also joining us is -- mentally -- the CEO and co-founder of open garden a consumer mesh networking company is trying to bring -- to a different group of people which is you and me. Welcome to you and congratulations on your great showing at the temperature and couple months ago. So. I want to do what I like doing here which is start from first principles and then build up from there so. Let's discuss technically what he is a mesh network and why we needed. Me -- -- start with. Mesh networks. -- -- debt that has has been existing for a while now. And is completely tiny -- mesh networks to. Improve connectivity for everybody today. And when you see the -- mutations we have Wii's and three G four G technologies. And Wi-Fi network access. I'm -- -- -- folks can help a lot to improve that the situation and bring to every consumer. Ubiquitous access the Internet. But but it technologically in a nutshell what is it instead of my phone connecting to a tower. My phone connects to another phone's three -- that that that's right time so that the original mesh networks were designed in the military acute or survivable communications so that soldiers could communicate to each other in the most harshest missions. And they have some very powerful -- that they connect to and so that they can. Communicate or tens of kilometers. And get back you know sit and talk and and -- the data. And these are not without any infrastructure is a Sims soldiers can't have -- infrastructure and earn him the battlefield situation. So that's what the idea of a mesh network is and so we have since the initial application -- -- and the military there have been many different. Variations of mesh networks that have been used throughout the world both for -- CDs as well as for small scale inside buildings. You know enough. For utilities core apps and utilities across very large areas. So and and and as well as the -- peer to -- -- -- like -- garden where people are trying to. -- each other. So I guess the idea here is that one device can connect to -- down to two -- connect to the rest of the Internet. Through another device somewhere that is connected that is that has a touch point. And at and as I understand it when I first heard about this technology many years ago I thought while this is -- why -- we all using its and then. I sort of talk to guys like Ian Anderson that there are technological challenges of actually building a mesh network that in theory it's great. But there are problems with computational over rope overhead and battery life mute talk about that little bit -- -- so when we started opening -- and we had -- -- face many technical challenges. First we -- to enabled devices to recognize themselves seamlessly. And voted processes like Disco rugby to -- all pairing. Because if you want to I mashed it took to be -- efficient. He want to be able to access to someone else device to. To have an activity -- out in the -- in direction we you know on -- you -- -- London. Well kneels on direction for the person was going to provide it was connectivity. So the first the these weather feels about alien content when communities -- -- software. You -- house elsewhere and that we found a way to -- -- and it Disco -- EDT and -- And land use case and we can describe here is let's say you -- in the space where you have access to Wi-Fi network. I -- into that space and -- don't have access to the Wi-Fi network because it is password protected. My A carriers deploying unit providing media -- and idea I want to access to the intimate. Then if you have opened and in software installed on one of a device that can be -- phone though it can be a laptop. Then I would be -- those for my laptop was from iPhone to access to that Wi-Fi Lan access point. So so busy -- -- not on me provides me -- access to intimate that can also increase the range of access for this Wi-Fi hotspots. Because I can be hoping onto a device that's then connected to a. And those are the guys have had access to these -- Swift announcement. While that. -- as a consumer focused let's dive into open Arnold and in the consumer applications of -- and then and we'll get into these other about the the repressed consumers and that sounds to me like. Paradise. Like a communicators paradise where -- -- -- I have access and other people's music as -- else's access them like that. But it also sets off alarm bells to meet me in terms of my devices already have very limited battery power and now it could be sharing my connection with other people and using the battery life. And then I cannot imagine that the providers of gated. Connectivity whether it's a paid Wi-Fi hot spot or my cellular. Carrier. Are cool with the idea of -- re purpose saying -- Enabling people that are not subscribers to use their network so. Let's talk about first the the consumer device impact and then get into the current economic. So Dara on batteries it. Obviously an important. Point when -- comes to mesh networks and -- specifically when he says it is an application like. Our reputation it is installed on the -- by phone. So we done when we arrived in the -- There is density of devices that you are dementia action can create -- -- -- communities for about three conception and give you a very simple example let's say -- phonies would on battery. And my phone is very low on by Terry and I want to access to. Then instead of using my expense -- -- we -- is my three GO four G radio interface. I would just use on a -- distinct to your phone which is full -- battery and and then be able to access to the -- my phone is for you you are French aren't you that this is. The socialist -- so now we take your empty battery in my full battery now we've both got half battery life left but I'm the paying customer. And I don't know I don't know you so you think that the people will go for that they will they will suffer heat and battery in order to help to be. The -- -- that's NI PO I extend my battery life all of -- he's gonna take so much -- -- yet popular and -- it comes. There is -- we want to create to see stem whose credits. So basically Andy's gonna require more generations is not implemented yet into -- software but. Tomorrow we advancing today implementation of the future as a of the software we -- Attest and that I created predicting ecosystem sew them all you do youth. Was and it's bytes all right it could be also jewels if -- -- a full four batteries aged. Demo credits you get and jewels -- as an energy jewels -- okay and then you can use the discredits. When you need -- -- when you don't have access plan to inevitable Wi-Fi hotspots or. If -- -- -- for example one you want to avoid expensive. Roaming charges. And so why not also we want users when they give some of their battery to -- -- -- uses a interest but that's we require of you generation so obviously. And Wii on a day had between and that's where we wouldn't we -- -- Now I know you've looked at this from the point the economics in the political perspective from the carriers and -- imagine you have as well I mean neutral -- was. It's now doing power infrastructure but it was broader than that -- when you started so so talked about the economic and a business angle of sharing. Network connectivity in this -- This issue goes beyond -- I mean when people start opening a pot a Wi-Fi hotspots and their homes in the the ISPs. Began to get really upset that. People would be sharing their Wi-Fi with people they didn't know so how does this play out. Yes I think that's very good question and -- points or credits is also very spot on media. Carriers actually welcome the use of Wi-Fi now because their networks are so overloaded with data. And in fact it's at one of the advantages of -- is it's actually more power efficient. And the reason is that when you're communicating with the cell tower that's miles away your cellphone has to -- a lot of power just to send a voice signal and whereas if you're hopping through several intermediate points. Just -- that cellphone -- going through Wi-Fi. It's a much closer link -- much less battery power so you can get. Much longer battery life much less strain on a cellular network and so there actually welcoming alternate approaches to offload -- network and so now the carriers are actually willing to. Embrace these new sort of off network approaches and I think that's where. Let you know companies -- And it did you -- matches chord do him. You know Wi-Fi based solutions will actually benefit carriers and and you -- much -- -- Have you worked with carriers mission. And -- so if this -- is in the past mowing the voice over IP of -- -- program for open garden where does all been done we we started discussions -- mania mode by Italian as we have agreements in place to start test with some of them. And what's -- US pointing out is then is very relevant is that today it would. We arrived to a point when there is -- meets Wii's and the spectrum that's available. And the only way to improve -- wireless networks and a is to increase -- -- CTO Fahd. Often micro cells are hotspots. And -- to ideas. -- does on this to -- debt today because. When they are now running out there are -- -- -- -- via a prostitute but the next step would be of -- probably to increase the number of micro cells to improve. Gonna teach encourage and what we do is open got a news we fall into that kept it to Italy where we've done every device in two hot spot or micro -- And by mincemeat to kind of density of these devices than -- improve. And -- network itself becomes more reliable. Can -- having backed on the -- battery conception has treatment challenge mentioned. And obviously provide you was -- -- connect -- -- and faster connects you to. How so you've launched this a product that is -- in release -- beta right now. So the product it is stealing -- out it was known said doing the tech crunching the old now and of -- 2012. And then we have. Months later a close to a hundred and -- 2000 uses now are are there any -- -- geographic concentrations. So more than half of whole uses aren't US. -- cities mainly. And to -- on country now is India. And then that countries -- in Europe like -- sedan UK and now and then in South America Brazil and big city. In the US where means in New York San Francisco the usual suspects are there like we are pockets and indeed the -- -- Now. I wanna get onto. Street -- just 12 year. Open garden is available on a OS-X. In windows so for laptops and on Android but it's not available yet on IOS which which strikes me as an of the obvious plates were. We want this -- -- -- When are we going to be able to get them. The bypass that AT&T Verizon honor for -- -- for data on violence. So -- -- you -- you want to -- on IOS. And we started Louisa and open platform and and -- it is perfect -- to be the visa application -- to -- to a point where we have a of media and great user experience. Compete -- punished user experience and when we -- to that point then -- stopped working on the feeling out how we can we used a petition -- IOS we have a lot of for a demons already from the users on IOS. And then we want to do -- when the timing -- writes. And them we believe though we still have to -- and improve. The product and but the I -- it can happen. Next year. But it's obviously wanna go on IOS -- -- -- -- from the first world problem of going to a conference -- -- get a solid connection to the real world of people who need to communicate in order to save lives or perhaps their entire countries -- want to talk about with what you've been working on since he left. -- post he sent me this paper about -- about using mesh networking as. The way to route around intentional blockage of communication -- did -- -- us more about that yes having built about 850 cities across the world -- purpose networks. Using Wi-Fi -- I've learned a lot about what makes them work and where they don't work. And and so the there are certain physical limitations -- The current -- Wi-Fi based mesh networks Georgia. The reason Wi-Fi is great is that the cost is so low it's everywhere in and that's one thing that's made -- so successful around the world. It's also available and unlicensed spectrum which is available in -- pretty much on every country around the world so anybody can -- free to operate without -- license and -- that that the challenge of Wi-Fi is that it is I'm. It doesn't actually it did so users really want to take this and then spread it all over the world but they can't because of the limitations of physical layer. -- that the links can only go so far and they require a lot of power. It for a battery powered device to actually communicate over distances greater than 500 feet. Even 500 -- a lot for Wi-Fi -- -- Battery -- -- a device and what I've been looking at is that you know -- CD energy that people have to build these these these -- and what they really want is something where they can just deploy a network anywhere in the world and start communicating over large distances like military like the military does in fact the military's been doing this for decades in Stratford for troops for over ten kilometers getting you know -- voice and video. I and and day the operates from twenty met at megahertz to 2.5 gigahertz. Or twenty for a hundred megahertz they have radios that -- that that spectrum and then essentially have complete freedom of operation. -- are called a small unit operations. Situational awareness that radios. And and they can look it up on on on the Internet and they have I'm. I added tremendous flexibility however that's because the military days they don't they can in a pretty much out in a time -- -- they can operate any good in anything. And so are the what they also have as they have techniques where their radio techniques that that. Can -- if -- applied in the unlicensed spectrum can actually go. Ten times as far and ten times as fast. -- and so compared to Wi-Fi. And in in many it's a ten times the coverage area. Wi-Fi because of the the direct sequence -- spectrum in the frequency hopping and in the way that they've the technique they developed -- that's not part of a Wi-Fi standard. And they can scale down to very large -- long links and so that I think. That taking that kind of military thinking and and and combining with did the biggest trend in the world right now and technology is the Smartphone. That you know Smartphone as is and it even impacting everyone including the military they're having to adapt to the Smartphone -- there are now. Are realizing that their radios are you have to somehow connect with with with the Smartphones and because everyone has one and and so. But did the limitation of the Smartphones that it requires a cellular network. Is that there and and the many parts the world. Don't have. Either don't have a free cellular networks or they don't have a cellular network at all so many countries -- 300 to most people just don't have access to cellular -- it's hard to imagine in this world. Where you know we we carry yourself we were always in with text messages and with with -- video and so on but. I'm there -- hundreds of -- -- people who world don't have access to that and there's and another even that is over billion people who don't have access to basic web sites that we eat meals that prevented and -- states they can't get information. Because of government censorship. So in all these sort of situations I think the -- a new kind of -- layer that supports the social. -- mesh concept. We could really make it a tremendous impact in in the reach of these networks and so a lot of the problems we see right now could be just. Solve with the technology and what's been limiting its so far. Is that these technologies that -- have been very expensive even you know -- a B perhaps several thousand dollars per per unit. And now. With the Smartphone in our hand we have so much processing power in these devices. Compared to ten years ago. That we can actually -- we can actually build very powerful mash networks for processing standpoint. And you combine that with them into Wi-Fi radio concept is actually twenty years old -- basic standards when you're sold there are much better with the new processing capabilities and with that -- the new. -- are just coming down so much for for for the cost of a war -- for for tens of dollars you can actually build a much more powerful radio that its its you know just like this battery pack here you know if -- -- connected here. Smartphone and you have this very powerful radio that can connect just like the military radios. And an end. -- when we talk -- first you talk about using this in instances where governments are actively trying to deny people access to the Internet. -- so -- so to prevent. And other Arab Spring for example by blocking access to Twitter or him shutting down the cell towers or firewall in -- country. Right in and you think that this technology can -- Rout around that. Yes I think that what -- so for example if you what's happening in Syria there are a small number of activists that are using satellite connections. And they they happen to be this elephants are very costly very low speed and for a very few number of people. And as a result what's happening is that the governments are -- are going -- and trying to target the machines that are running on the satellite connections to -- very vulnerable because there's so few of them. When you have a technology like Wi-Fi at Wi-Fi -- but much more powerful. Net that that the scale there's no way -- to stop that many. Radios out there and so you know it's just that sort of if there's a security numbers you have much larger proliferation of these devices. You know you can you can overcome any dreams know no government will be to stop so you're working on -- a new up to date radio hardware technology. Our hardware software networking technology it's it's all -- it's you can't really separate -- -- yes because competing. I know so I'm I'm I'm actually what it is I wrote the paper so we haven't been we're not building it yet and so it who -- paper -- -- communications magazine so we're looking and see how this is gonna I think is a technological inevitability and -- -- exactly how it's going to unfold. But the the the power of these Smartphones combined with the the RF technology that's been developed the last ten years did it at some point is going to change the way we do on networking. And -- it. I think. Triana are sharing the same vision and the reason why we don't depend on -- -- because the original vision. In him was to take advantage of -- then -- and the proliferation offer Smartphones like trees saved. Which is a big difference like ten years ago from a -- now is every Smartphone every phone is -- Is a computer -- a route to Europe and has plan to -- a BT two supports mesh networking a threat and Wii is because -- stem of the apps on Smartphones today. You just transform your phone into. Mesh and device just by -- stunning and and not and then when you install opening and ammonia all Smartphone. It turns a Smartphone into a into a mesh device and -- as long as you have a nose a device is -- got -- running. I'm -- closed -- and selling proximity than these these two devices we stuck to the content connect now. I as I said at the top of the show up in the fascinated by this technology. For many many years and an over time I've seen. Businesses experiment with shared infrastructure shared resources. -- on the springs to mind. Its phone FON which was a they shared a telephony. Network it will replace your router in your house with one that was phone enabled. And you know you could. Chair -- there's another one though when my favorite companies from a launch event I think it was -- basement where -- drilling a storage -- Where they'll sell you. About one gigabyte of storage and a hard drive that you put in your in on your network in your house but it's actually two gigabyte drive navigate to -- with the match with the other users. Fascinating idea. Over the years I have seen none of these technologies yet. Critical traction as there always seem to be the province of geeks now stream your case you're talking about. Routing around that particular problem by making it in. Literally life -- death for people. But -- -- -- in yours how would you break out of while that sounds really cool and installs but only solves the problem I have once in awhile and make this. A really broad consumer technology to the extent that the -- sit up and take and take notes. So if you take two to -- those -- -- fallen and space monkey. A phone one of this things they have to overcome was the end hardware and basically they try to -- to a -- -- -- to a solution and its. Icing and how well was not ready to the mountain for the solution at a time -- And phone still has to deploy a number off a hardware. Devices to be able to deployed a network. And that. Action via -- martini is doing a great job and the icing on the which make -- -- hotspots of London the globe. And I believe that said the work that he is doing and -- PU and -- Wi-Fi networks are -- complimentary solutions to a to -- it to be a -- reputation we -- we have win on developing. Because when you create a mesh network you always -- -- primed to -- -- was there its is -- account you know he's a south tower was there -- is through a Wi-Fi it ninth prospector. And then -- -- case. Why we launch and we think it is time for me it's because of the density of Smartphones today and we -- -- to how to a solution and we don't want to be a hardware player. We are -- to a submission. And when it comes to -- -- and tomorrow by ups. I mean it just you are just two weeks away from getting your phone only -- device because -- also a Smartphone a tablet or a laptop. To become part of the mesh network Indian commission -- looking device. So it's very easy process there is no more barrio -- how to mountain. For. Sure yes I think. As you -- -- out emission that there have been big change that's happened in the last five years as -- Smartphone. And availability Smartphones that people are carrying on their you know with them all the time. And and so -- that opens up a new opportunity for Wi-Fi. And within the constraints of Wi-Fi. -- Wi-Fi the these -- he's here from ashes will actually begin to become more and more available throughout the world. I -- and -- I think the odd complementary thing is that Wi-Fi itself as a standard is very limited and so. I and there's nothing we can do about -- that -- a great thing matters it's the cost is so low it's everywhere. I had the problem is that -- limitations of the physical layer prevent it from really communicating and long distance and so. There it is technologically possible to build radios and unlicensed they have ten times the coverage area. Right now with new technology. And and so eventually that will make its way into consumer devices that support for example cordless phones. Use unlicensed spectrum and have -- much longer ranges. -- and that's just an example of how are what's possible. You know but I think you can do much better using the military approaches that have been -- Designed for military radios and and that. Enemies -- seen how that -- -- -- -- -- So we want to get mesh networking technology and -- -- right now -- -- couple ways to do it was thought but that obviously. You can download and run open garden on your laptop computer or on your Android Smartphone. And sounds like kind of a no brainer don't you were telling me that you know if you're not if you're just running in the background it actually doesn't impact your battery -- very much at all. -- -- Very low you don't you don't you don't -- its -- phones are so let's let's give it a shot and build a corporate network as a instantly cooled. Now when you were at at. After a post you're involved in building these metro scale in -- like a mesh networks and power companies are using these right now where it is that records -- house mesh being used right now kind of behind the scenes leniency. Yes -- for example Smart meters are already being deployed across the world and in two to meter your residential usage and those have to go to the to communicate back to. Power company -- the way that's happening is overmatched networks so their connecting to networks that where the mesh nodes are. Powered on the street lamps or powered on fixed areas where they have power. And they to communicate relayed from hop hop to hop back to -- I opted to power compute computers that the servers and -- department. And then than the new home control automation products I think -- -- mean those are actually. Little ultra low power -- that's right that's right and those are designed for very long battery life not. To -- small amounts of information that repeatedly over long time at ten years. And so those are in in the home and low power devices. So he wrote this paper on kind of new technologies and mention in and as as a tool for providing more people with connectivity. Touchdown -- into the global net. What's your prognosis what he thinks have -- personal. Do you think there could be another Arab Spring given what. Potentially present leaders know about technology today. Are you know it's it's a great question and I can't answer definitively one radio that's a very -- for -- but I think there's a lot of things pointing to the answer being. -- quite it's quite possible because arm -- technology is moving now in a direction where everybody can get. Very powerful communication resources in their hand. And and I think I'm looking for the next ten years to see how that's going to time make it make it possible where. I and so when we wrote the paper -- to be communications that we were just asking the question can you build a network that cannot be that -- that's indestructible. -- wireless machine -- that everybody can have access to you know I think a lot of Powell's world can be solved if you can have you stream everywhere in the world. You know without being blocked so Wi-Fi or cellular networks or anything and government can take a very powerful. Transmitter and just jammed the networks that none of it can operate. Not and that's that's just the vulnerability of commercial -- right now is that they can be shut down are similarly the Internet can be shut down by. By limiting about filtering the packets at any point in the in in and it anti -- networks of many countries like cut Iran and Europe. Or other countries are are they they can deacon can control the communication says that the only left things that they want in and out I'm going. But technologically that that opportunity seems to be that limit very limited because if you have the power to communicate with everyone all the time. And there's that one of the advantages mesh -- and you can set him up in their -- thousands of different links. Not -- there's no way for government control that many independent wireless links. -- they would they can just. You know so so it. If they may want to control these links but tech did. Did they may be facing -- and sort of an unstoppable technological trend where there -- be thousands of ways alternate routes. Not in and out of these countries and and there's no way for them to stop. It's fast and inks that us feature Krishna is pending CTO of troll posts come and tell me. Tell people where we can find -- paper which we Google to find. Sure -- you can Google are among my name and social match. But -- -- and it's published nitro we communications magazine check it out in June June. -- -- -- -- thank you for coming in thinking and Misha. In -- Leo. Is the founder and CEO of open garden a mesh networking. Technology can get that day. For your laptops and for Android phones and -- later thanks so much for joining its specialty. Center and the assume you just to go to. Opened -- dot com and we direct you to -- to the rights of such install you know no -- up audio -- it on great thanks guys -- -- -- comment. Thanks for -- reporters' roundtable our next episode coming up will be on aerial drones we've got Chris Anderson the editor in chief of wired. And Daniel -- via author of the new book called -- decision. About aerial Jones and a previously the author of -- which I'm sure everybody here -- Don't miss that show thanks for watching reporters' roundtable thanked him for producing we'll see you next.