Founder of Funkfeuer FREE NET, Vienna
Breaking the Wall of Internet Censorship. How Peer to Peer Wireless Mesh Networks Are Replacing Centralized Connectivity
So, thank you very much for having me here. It is a great honour, and actually I am a little bit shocked almost to talk about my hobby project, which is just a hobby project; it is not my daytime job—just something that we started as a group nine and a half years ago. It carried on since then, and there has been this driving motor behind this all the time. So, I don’t know exactly if I deserve this, being here, but anyway I hope you bear with me. I am not probably the first one to have thought this idea that— when I was 14—the wall was falling, the change was coming, and we actually felt something new. I think if Bert Brecht in 1932 had a very similar idea that, if we can have two-way communication systems, if people could talk back on the radio, the world would be a different place. So, just imagine: what if every person in Germany, Austria, Europe, at that time, had a radio to talk back—maybe had a printing press, maybe had a cinema studio? We would have lots of parodies of the rise of Fascism or so. The world would have been a different place. People wouldn’t be able to follow blindly in just one direction. I think this multitude of opinions, this multitude of voices, is really the core of what I want to talk about. We have good news for Mr. Brecht. We built that—by now, at least I believe so—in small scales. We have the Internet, first of all, but the Internet is still very centralised. It is frighteningly centralised. If you look at your Internet connection from your Internet service provider, your Internet service provider will give you a DSL modem, and that will connect to some switch. That switch will, as in a tree, have multiple other DSL modems connected to it, and it will be a very central place. So, you knock out that place, you knock out many customers at once. Of course, then at a higher level, the ISP will cross connect. However, we took a totally different approach here. As you can see, in this graph of this mesh network, this is the sort of the centre of our network here—the green stuff in the middle. These are nodes, as in graph theory, nodes describing essentially Wi-Fi, rather small things like, for example, this one. The standard Wi-Fi router that everybody can buy in a shop is nothing special; it is very cheap. It is 40 Euros maybe, or less by now. We can reprogram those and create this network of densely interlinked nodes, and these nodes are connected by edges, and on the edges you can see (you probably cannot see) labels, edge labels, saying how strong this connection is, how much packet loss we have etc. So, this is sort of—you get the impression of the structure of the network. It is like a spider went crazy; there is no structure.