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Cellphones The Internet Wireless Networking Technology

A Mobile Phone Mesh That Can Survive Carrier Network Failure 131

Posted by timothy
from the use-the-unbroken-bits dept.
bennyboy64 writes "iTnews reports that researchers from Australia and Singapore are developing a wireless ad-hoc mesh networking technology that uses mobile handsets to share and carry information. The mesh network will make use of Bluetooth or Wi-fi to swap information between handsets — even if the mobile phone network was offline. One potential scenario could be during an emergency where the mobile phone network was unavailable or clogged. In a city centre, users could set up the network to share information, video, photographs and, depending on the final client applications, even locate friends and loved ones. One benefit of developing such a technology would be that users sharing content between their devices would use the wireless communications technology already built into their phones and not bandwidth from their mobile provider. The researchers from the National ICT Australia and Singapore's A*STAR Institute for Infocomm Research hope to demonstrate the technology within two years, according to NICTA project leader Dr Roksana Boreli.'This is an early stage in the research project,' she said. 'We are addressing how you would quickly establish trust between devices, how you would discover them and share the information,' Boreli said."
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A Mobile Phone Mesh That Can Survive Carrier Network Failure

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  • Aim Higher (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shadowofathief (1348245) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:43PM (#29610651)
    Screw only for emergencies why don't they just put the providers out of business. No more monthly fees.
    • Re:Aim Higher (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:47PM (#29610721)

      Indeed. Even a 5000$ cellphone would be cheap if there were no monthly fees.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:53PM (#29610777)

      because you really want me to be reading your data in transit. Really, you do. The trust relationships are dead simple. Either you've got a good authentication from their sim card, or you don't. Sure, there will be hacked devices. However, you're only going to transmit what you're okay with people seeing. I think it should be text only, though, since the voice bandwidth will quickly eat battery life and the latency of multiple hops will be brutal. Just my 2 cents.

      • by MaerD (954222) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:06PM (#29610955)
        ... so encrypt the packets? utilize "phone to phone" until you get to a wifi connected phone and push it to the internet? I mean the idea that "everyone will be able to read your packets, ohnoes" was solved some time ago.
        Otherwise, there'd be nothing like VOIP or websites that take your credit card...etc.
      • by humpolec (1095783) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:07PM (#29610969)
        Encryption.
      • by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:04PM (#29612171) Homepage Journal

        Almost everyone I regularly talk to on the phone, is someone I regularly see in real life. If our phones didn't suck and let us use reasonably good crypto, there's no reason we couldn't have securely-exchanged public keys. Shit, with today's huge/cheap flash storage, most of us could be using OTP. Let the phones exchange a few gigabytes of random crap while they're physically next to each other on the nightstand.

        Today's phones are still stupid. I mean really, really stupid. I don't know when, but some day, that's going to change.

        • by TGOT (849539) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:43PM (#29612481)
          Couldn't a creative individual develop an algorithm to create a public-private key system based on phone numbers. There is a possibility of backdoors (through manufacturers) but no more than the existing GSM system. One could simply place this information onto SIM cards. Of course a peer to peer network has faults but I don't see encryption being a difficult issue.
          • by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:52PM (#29612545) Homepage Journal

            Couldn't a creative individual develop an algorithm to create a public-private key system based on phone numbers.

            No. Well, ok, you could use phone numbers as a key in some public database (analogous to looking up someone by their email address on openpgp keyservers), and use a WoT or a CA to measure how much you trust a public key to be correct, but at some point you still have people somewhere, having to securely exchange keys. There's no getting around that. But fortunately, like I said, I mostly talk to people I've met in person, so doing that is possible. Don't even need a WoT or CA; you can cert 'em yourself.

            • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @09:03PM (#29612945) Homepage Journal

              But fortunately, like I said, I mostly talk to people I've met in person, so doing that is possible.

              That wouldn't be practical for people who regularly take sales or service calls from the public. They'd have to rely on the phone company as a CA, just as web site operators often rely on their web host's affiliated CA.

              • by Sloppy (14984) on Sunday October 04, 2009 @03:28PM (#29637337) Homepage Journal

                That wouldn't be practical for people who regularly take sales or service calls from the public.

                You're right, and I'm not saying that directly/securely exchanging keys is the solution for all situations. But it's how friends and family (and small organizations) should work.

                They'd have to rely on the phone company as a CA, just as web site operators often rely on their web host's affiliated CA.

                I wouldn't go that far. They'd have to rely on someone as a trusted introducer. Why would it be the phone company?

                That last question is rhetorical. You might have a good reason to trust the phone company. I doubt you can convince everyone, though. And that's why I advocate WoTs over CAs: let everyone choose who to trust and how much. Like many things in life, if the basics are set up with enough foresight and flexibility, then it's ok if we all disagree about the details.

        • by hot soldering iron (800102) on Friday October 02, 2009 @01:57PM (#29619311)

          How about when Google Wave is embedded in the phones? A phone is a computer with a radio modem (wifi, bluetooth are different freqs and signal formats) that sends and receives data (audio, video, sms, mms, gps, etc...) A nice ARM processor and GNU radio module should let you get "online" with anyone. The only thing really slowing down phone development is the mindset that "a phone is a PHONE", and major manufacturer/carriers not allowing certain functions to be installed "for business reasons". A nice mesh phone with Google Wave and an open OS embedded in it would be super sweet.

    • Re:Aim Higher (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SpudB0y (617458) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:06PM (#29610953)

      How long does your battery last now? How long do you think it would last if your phone was a repeater?

      No thanks.

      • Re:Aim Higher (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:26PM (#29612369)

        At worst, a phone in repeater mode would last as long as the normal talk time. However, if it's acting as a repeater in a dense mesh, it probably wouldn't need to (and shouldn't) transmit at as high a power as it would to reach a tower a mile away.

      • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:17PM (#29612683) Homepage

        Which is why this should be limited to emergencies (i.e. only to calls to/routed through emergency services). For everything else, it would be better to just replace the disjointed/overlapping commercial cellular networks with a nation-wide open wireless (wi-fi, wi-max, etc.) network. Then you could just use a VoIP phone and not be locked into any one provider. You wouldn't need to get a special sim chip (or risk paying outrageous roaming fees) when you travel to another country, and text messaging would essentially be free, just like e-mail/IM; not to mention all the other benefits that come with ubiquitous wi-fi access (portable internet radios would finally be of practical use; having access to your home mp3/video/ebook collection wherever you go, without needing to lug several terabyte hdds around, etc.).

        Alas, I don't think that the telecoms or ISPs would ever let that happen. And it wouldn't just threaten them, but also cable providers and conventional TV & radio networks.

      • by Dare nMc (468959) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @09:06PM (#29612975)

        my current cell phone battery is 7W*hr, cell network uses transmit power in the ~1 watt while talking. Bluetooth is in the .1 watt category. So 7 hours of active use without this, or up to 70 hours of active use as part of a bluetooth hub. So if we have a bunch of smart phones wanting access, and one of them is plugged in and thus designated host, as long as a plugged in phone is within 10 bluetooth hops then it would be a huge net savings of power.
        Basically this would be really sweet if we can put a hop in a car, house, offices, laptops... then your smart phone battery can last 10* as long while in use (ie talking or networking)
        sure my phones standby time might decrease 10*, but my talking/email battery life goes up 10*. So a pure cell phone for a occasional talker it would be a net power drain. For the upcoming common use of phones, it is up to a 10* power savings.
        would be really nice if my laptop cell card is on, so my cell phone is real low power. The laptop has plenty of spare juice for repeating (and is not transmitting through my head.)

      • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday October 02, 2009 @08:48AM (#29615565) Homepage Journal

        How long does your battery last now? How long do you think it would last if your phone was a repeater?

        I don't see why you can't have dedicated repeaters in your home or business that plug into the wall. If enough people did that, you would only need to use phones for repeaters when there were no dedicated repeaters around.

        One potential scenario could be during an emergency where the mobile phone network was unavailable or clogged

        When the tornados hit here in March '06, the entire electrical infrastructure in my neighborhood was destroyed. The entire city was without electricity for most of the night, some of us were without power for a week, POTS took longer, and it was almost a month before I had cable and internet restored.

        But my cell phone worked through it all. OTOH, I had a hard time calling my dad last Father's Day, and I don't think a mesh network would do much good, seeing's how I'm in Illinois and he's in southeast Missouri.

        But if a tornado hit Chicago or St Louis, I can see cell service disrupted; the population here is only 110,000. If millions of people in a city were trying to call each other, the system would surely be more overloaded than on a holiday. But in an emergency like that, that's when the battery problems would start, because you'd likely be without power.

        The system should be designed so 1) you could shut the repeater service off on your handset if you thought it might be a while before you could charge it (I had to charge mine at work after the tornados) and 2) the repeater part would autometically shut itself off if the phone's battery was under a certain amount of available power.

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:27PM (#29611247)

      Isn't this the way that the information network is suposedly done in Diamond Age? As long as the encryption is good enough and the bandwidth wide enough, there's no reason such a system couldn't work. At present, I doubt that the second condition is true, however. Constantly sending and recieving other people's data is going to tax your device's already too small battery, which will of course cause people to turn the feature off, which will severly hamper it's usefulness.

      • Re:Diamond Age? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jc42 (318812) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:04PM (#29612617) Homepage Journal

        Isn't this the way that the information network is suposedly done in Diamond Age? As long as the encryption is good enough and the bandwidth wide enough, there's no reason such a system couldn't work.

        Somewhere around here, I have some of the docs from the early days of the ARPAnet, pre-Internet and in the late 1960s. I remember well a number of discussions of the way that these docs included pictures that were 1) completely wireless, and 2) included relaying by pretty much every gadget. The intent from the first was that if there was a data path between two nodes that wanted to talk, the software would find a path and deliver their packets to each other. This was funded by the military, as you'll all recall, so the equirements included the possibility that relay nodes were coming on- and off-line randomly, often because someone was shooting at them as they came on-line. The military wanted routing software that would rapidly route around damage and get the packets through. (Has anyone here heard the phrase "route around damage"? ;-)

        In the 1980s, I poked around a bit at MIT's ChaosNet, which was based on the same concepts: Everything is a relay, and if there's a data path, the data will be delivered. We did a few experiments chaining together machines with RS-232 crossover cables, firing up the "chaos" drivers, and watching the last node on the chain connect to a remote machine. I don't recall how long a chain we had, but we got it so the last one was pretty slow.

        Lots of us have been disappointed for some four decades now, that we don't yet have total wireless interconnection with everything acting as a relay as needed. A while ago, I played with some OLPCs, and sure enough, they've implemented this idea. If you carry an OLPC into an area where there are others, it becomes part of the local mesh, and if any of them has access to the Internet, they all do. Most of us don't have this, because the commercial world is still dragging their feet on such concepts after all these decades, and only a few groups of people here and there actually have software that does it. (I have wondered whether the OLPC really does a good job of this, but none of my neighbors have one, so I can't experiment with it easily. I did one test of a chain of 4 machines, where the first could see my home gateway, and the others could see at most 2 neighbors. The last one could use the Internet, and was visibly slow but usable.)

        And in other places, people are trying to implement this, not knowing (or caring?) that others have worked on it before them. And others continue to argue against the practicality, with the same arguments we've heard before. Yes, we need better batteries, but that's no reason we can't work on full mesh networks now (or 30 years ago). Yes, we need to encrypt everything; the security folks have been recommending end-to-end encryption for decades and we have software that can do it. We (or more often the commercial suppliers) just refuse to supply systems that put it all together. Part of it is the comm companies, who don't want total interconnection; they want everyone to pay them for data transport, and they want to be able to see all the data as it passes through their relays. Part of it dummies who don't want their computer to forward packets for others, and aren't smart enough to understand the result of others behaving the same way.

        Amongst all the wide-eyed discussions of the miracles of modern technology, we occasionally are reminded of things that we could have had long ago, if we'd been smart enough to force the vendors to include them.

        (And I expect replies that mention flying cars ... ;-)

        • Re:Diamond Age? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by fastest fascist (1086001) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:13AM (#29614255)
          I thought the bigger practical obstacle was node density? Also, ISPs don't want people to share their Internet connections with unknown numbers of strangers. And people mostly want mobile networking for Internet connectivity, so if you can't guarantee an Internet connection almost 100% of the time, I think a lot of people are not going to be interested in your mesh. That means there's little commercial incentive to develop such a system, and here we are, few meshes around.

          To really start a mesh network up, you'd need some high-bandwidth internet connectivity nodes all around a city, and then a bunch of people with mesh-enabled devices. Without both of these the system doesn't really work. And that's kind of the problem with the mesh - it's not worth much without a large userbase, and it's difficult to get a large userbase without a useful product.
        • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday October 02, 2009 @10:53AM (#29616823) Homepage Journal

          ZigBee does mesh networking right now, and it actually works. You can buy radio modules as cheap as $10 each, in even small quantities. $50 gets you a complete Arduino with integrated XBee of your choice [myra-robotics.com]. At this price I think I'll turn my R/C cars into robots, since arduino handles servos out of the box :P For about $20 you can get an XBee explorer which is about the shortest road between PC and XBee, but then you still have to buy a module. Might as well just get another one of these... Assuming they are all they promise. I plan to buy three as soon as I figure out which XBee modules I want (external antennas and mesh networking, speed is not actually important but I'll take all I can get... any advice?)

    • Re:Aim Higher (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sn00ker (172521) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:17PM (#29611779) Homepage
      umm, maybe because a phone that can't reliably make connections to anywhere is useless?

      Really, think this one through. What're you paying the carrier for? Dialtone. Which means that you're paying them to reliably (for values of reliability that vary with carrier, but here in NZ they're all pretty damn good) deliver your call data to the recipient. Take away that service, and how do you ensure that, when you need it, you'll have the ability to make a call, or send a text message? What if you need to make an emergency call and there're no other phones around to hop your signal into range of a network interconnection point? Or if the only phones that are nearby are in transit, and thus you lose your signal mid-call because your multi-hop path back into the POTS network has irretrievably lost a link?

      You might wonder what you're paying your provider for, but I guarantee that if they dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow, to be replaced by this conceptual system, you wouldn't last a month before you were begging for their return. And if you regularly make trips that take you to less-populated areas, I'd give you a week. This might work in the middle of New York City or some similarly heavily populated area, maybe, but even there you still need some way of interconnecting with both other mobile networks and with POTS. Those interconnects are what you pay your carrier for.

      • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday October 02, 2009 @09:33AM (#29615919) Homepage Journal

        I think you need a little more coffee this morning. This suppliments your carrier for three things: 1) there's an outage on your carrier's network, 2) If you're in a "dead spot" (there are many in my building) the mesh can route the signal to a phone that isn't in a dead spot and 3) most people pay their cell useage by the minute. This would reduce your phone bill, not eliminate it.

      • by hot soldering iron (800102) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:21PM (#29618037)

        My phone service is like that already! I'm in the middle of Missouri, and for my wife's plan, mine, and our kids, I'm paying almost $180 USD a month. The phones only work intermittently because of the terrain, and to make a call at my home I have to go outside because the signal is so weak. The POTS system is leftovers from the 70's and so full of static after a rainstorm that you can barely hear a voice call, and you can give up any dreams of a net connection. For the internet, we had to go to Wildblue satellite. They rock! I get jabbed for it, but I'm getting jabbed for everything anyways and at least they give me something in return!

        If I could buy only 1 phone at a time for ~ $200 USD, with no carrier fee over $20/month, I'd be all over it.

  • Battery Drain? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:43PM (#29610655)

    How is this going to work effectively when we already know how quickly wifi/bluetooth can drain your phone battery?

  • Trust per DoD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:44PM (#29610663)

    Trust = Ability to violate established security policy

    Don't trust, only verify.

    Encrypt information you want to send, then I don't care if 50 drug dealers, pedophiles, Catholic priests, scientologists, or other low-lives are involved in the chain, so long as the message reaches my intended recipient who has the proper key to decrypt it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:45PM (#29610679)

    my social networks will stay intact after the apocalypse.

    Why is this couched in terms of emergency communication?

    P.S. the answer is money

  • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:45PM (#29610687) Homepage Journal
    Great. Just wait until the phone companies use this as a hack for when they refuse to upgrade towers and other infrastructure. Battery life suffers, data anonymity suffers, service suffers. It'll all be in the contract and there won't be a damn thing we could do about it...except go back to smoke signals.
  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:49PM (#29610733) Journal

    In a city centre, users could set up the network to share information, video, photographs and, depending on the final client applications, even locate friends and loved ones.

    So... how long until the news media starts shilling that file sharing is "illegal"?

    • Re:File sharing (Score:3, Interesting)

      by eleuthero (812560) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:56PM (#29610835)

      So... how long until the news media starts shilling that file sharing is "illegal"?

      This strikes me as a perfect way to get away with file sharing as "sneakernet 2.0." The method of sharing data between two phones can already be done on the iphone (though I think that is more of a GPS-linked WAN situation than a LAN situation).

      I would suggest that this does pose a security problem. One of the other posters here has noted his lack of concern:

      Encrypt information you want to send, then I don't care if 50 drug dealers, pedophiles, Catholic priests, scientologists, or other low-lives are involved in the chain, so long as the message reaches my intended recipient who has the proper key to decrypt it.

      It seems though, that if pedophiles are on the same network as I am AND if I am routing my traffic through their systems, that I might be the one blamed ... like with students I teach who are caught with contraband and later explain to the cop, "I swear, officer, someone put that XXXXXX in my bag, I don't know where it came from" - when possession itself is a crime, this could be problematic.

      It will be suggested that the encryption part solves the problem--but how do I know if the server through which I am temporarily housing my communication is sniffing and breaking the encryption only to add more to it?

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:26PM (#29611225)

        like with students I teach who are caught with contraband and later explain to the cop, "I swear, officer, someone put that XXXXXX in my bag, I don't know where it came from" - when possession itself is a crime, this could be problematic.

        That's a judicial problem, not a technical one. And it's solved by firing (or killing, neutralizing, or otherwise removing) the people who write vague and badly-defined laws to "look tough on crime" and wind up incarcerating people who are no real threat to society (or even themselves) and criminalizing behavior that doesn't have any tangible cost to those around them.

        • by eleuthero (812560) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:27PM (#29611855)
          I don't find the law inappropriate--merely that I want to avoid finding myself necessarily in that situation because of poorly implemented technology (or given your example, poorly implemented law).

          The kids who bring drugs / alcohol / weapons to school bring the problems down on themselves. Badly defined laws should be addressed--and you are right to suggest that there are issues with some, but behavior should sometimes be criminalized.

          With specific reference to the pedophilia issue, I don't want to have anyone find such a thing on my computer, because I find the behavior reprehensible. Such behavior affects more than those in possession of it since, obviously, someone had to take the picture / video whatever. Further, studies repeatedly show a link between those with a tendency to view such material and those who act out their fantasies.

          Possession laws should be enforced, but carefully. This requires care on the part of the legal system to ensure that my computer isn't part of a botnet that I unwittingly/unwillingly joined (or my neighbor's borrowing of my wifi because his broke "temporarily")... and on the part of the technical community to ensure that my transfer protocol does not unnecessarily expose me to taking part in criminal activities.
          • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:53PM (#29612065)

            Possession laws should be enforced, but carefully.

            That's the problem: You're counting on the good will of the prosecutor, judge, jury, police, and everybody else to realize "Hey, this person isn't really a threat, so we should look the other way." Sadly, it doesn't work that way. Maybe the prosecutor is up for re-election. Maybe the police officer made a mistake filing the paperwork. Maybe the judge just had an argument with his wife over his teenage daughter, ate a chili cheese burrito half an hour ago, and has nothing but death in store for you.

            See, bad laws are a problem because they're enforced by human beings, who are prone to making errors in judgment. Stop the chain of misfortune at the source: Make sure the laws are well-written to begin with.

          • by sjames (1099) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @10:20PM (#29613329) Homepage

            Many laws have been written assuming that police, prosecutors, and the courts will show an appropriate restraint and discretion.

            However, a number of recent events suggest that they certainly may not be counted on for either. I would say that any possession law should require that it be willful and knowing. While it does make possession hard to prove, the law is supposed to be just rather than convenient to enforce.

      • by dakameleon (1126377) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:16PM (#29612673)

        This strikes me as a perfect way to get away with file sharing as "sneakernet 2.0." The method of sharing data between two phones can already be done on the iphone

        Not quite as easily as that - I've got an iPhone, but Apple has locked down the bluetooth to the point where it refuses to talk to my old Nokia. On the other hand, sending an mp3 of a local band performing at the pub from the Nokia to my friend's Sony Ericsson, easy as pie.

  • by Arakageeta (671142) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:53PM (#29610781)

    Hasn't stuff like this been around forever? Certainly HAM & CB counts for something. Not to mention SINCGARS and EPLRS radio networks. And these are old. The military has been playing around with IP-based mesh networks for quite a while.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:54PM (#29610797)

    When I can tell my provider to take a hike and just use this for calls?

  • by mcrbids (148650) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:59PM (#29610859) Journal

    Strikes me that mesh networks would be fantastic for aviation. The FAA is in the starting stages of their next-gen ATC system, that will solve all the problems now in place with airplanes and trying not to hit something else. Air traffic control still depends on RADAR and transponders, which are fraught with problems. For example, aircraft typically just announce where they are, like:

    "Smallville traffic, Cessna N1235 altitude three thousand, 5 miles northwest of the field, making left downwind for three three".

    Which means: "For the airport in Smallville, I'm a Cessna with a License number of N1235, I'm three thousand feet above sea level, I'm 5 miles away from the field coming from the northwest, and I'm going to maneuver to the runway pointed North north west. (compass heading 330)"

    It's almost all trust-based, self announced. If you make a mistake, and announce NorthEast instead of NorthWest, the likelyhood of an accident rises sharply. Yet it's a mistake that's simple to make. I've made it - announcing East instead of West, etc. When I notice, I'll re-announce, but it's still error prone.

    But a simple mesh network that allows aircraft to automatically broadcast their location (latitude/longitude/altitude from GPS) in a simple packet in a protocol similar to that used for wifi or ethernet, where aircraft closer than 200 miles will rebroadcast (aircraft on the ground have a broadcast range of less than 5 miles, at 5 thousand feet the range extends to hundreds of miles) and the result would be that all aircraft would know about all other aircraft with perhaps a 10 second latency, even in very heavy traffic.

    • by langedb (518453) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:07PM (#29610967) Homepage Journal
      The HAM community already has this sort of thing. It's called APRS [aprs.org], and includes all the capabilities that you describe. All that would be needed is to put the necessary GPS and computer systems into the aircraft and wire them up to warn the pilot when another plane is getting too close.
      • by PPH (736903) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:35PM (#29612797)

        There's a similar system proposed (available?) for ships. Periodic broadcast of GPS coordinates, heading and speed. But ships have an advantage that aircraft don't. You can mandate such a system (its relatively inexpensive) for cargo ships, tankers and the like. If smaller pleasure craft choose not to participate, its no big deal. A supertanker will make kindling out of your ski boat and never slow down.

        Not so for aircraft. All it takes is some group to drag their heels, either due to cost or the adverse impact a change would have on traditional ways of doing things and all bets are off.

        • There's a similar system proposed (available?) for ships. Periodic broadcast of GPS coordinates, heading and speed.

          They are in use now, mandated by at least most nations. You want your registry, you need one. You can't hide a ship that size anyway, so there's no particular reason not to have one. Only large vessels are required to have the transmitter, and receivers are actually quite reasonable. Since the larger vessel has the right of way, only large vessels need to broadcast.

          Not so for aircraft. All it takes is some group to drag their heels, either due to cost or the adverse impact a change would have on traditional ways of doing things and all bets are off.

          A few military-style forced landings, and I guarantee you people will fall into line. No rig? No fly. The big problem with doing it with aircraft is the FCC, which will find ten different ways of fucking it up before it even gets started. You could probably get it done (as I said in an earlier but mislocated comment) with Digi's XBee modules, perhaps even using ZigBee at the same time to produce a mesh network of the skies. I about guarantee you could do it, and do it well with Arduino, XBee, and even a cheap GPS chip like a SiRF STAR III. You'd run an opto-isolated serial connection into the cockpit so you could use the GPS data for other purposes as well. Total prototype cost should be under $200 per unit. You could put multiple units in the box for redundancy and still hit the shelf under a grand.

          • I actually meant that the FAA would ruin the idea before you got going with it. Now that I think of it, though, the FCC would have ample opportunity to crap on you as well.

          • by PPH (736903) on Friday October 02, 2009 @08:37PM (#29622883)

            A few military-style forced landings, and I guarantee you people will fall into line. No rig? No fly. The big problem with doing it with aircraft is the FCC, which will find ten different ways of fucking it up before it even gets started.

            Its not the FAA so much (I caught that), as their tendency to let various stake holders in the aviation biz push them around like a 44 kg weakling. You're not going to see 'forced landings' when parts of the aviation culture still value seat of the pants flying, wherever they want.

            Some time ago /. had a thread going about how to prevent airplane-goose collisions. My suggestion, fly higher than the geese do, was quickly put down as unworkable. Where I live, about 20 miles from SeaTac airport, planes on approach often drop to (or at times below 5000 feet). The claim from the aviation people is that they need to fly this low for 'visibility reasons'. At 20 miles out, one is behind two ridges and probably can't even see the airport when that low. But that wasn't the point. From what I gather, the rules were developed when pilots had to follow the terrain to locate an airstrip. And things haven't changed since then.

            Come on folks! Its the 21st century. Nobody has any business finding the airport by sticking their head out the window, spotting the Microsoft parking lot and turning left. But that's the mentality.

    • by jp102235 (923963) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:22PM (#29611819)
      TCAS: Traffic Collision and Avoidance System
      each plane has an active TACAN and they peer -to- peer negotiate away from each other..... been available for a while now...
      when coupled to an autopilot it even lets you sleep through your daily commute up the Hudson... ok not really...

      John
      3000+ hours Commercial Multi Engine Instructor Pilot
    • by StrategicIrony (1183007) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:25PM (#29611843)

      There is such a system for ocean-going shipping, known as AIS. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_Identification_System [wikipedia.org]

      It's short-range (VHF radio based), but it effectively informs other AIS capable ships of GPS coordinates, direction, speed, rate of turn, status, name, weight, destination, etc.

      I think it has something to do with stubborn FAA policies that are more interested in CYA than pushing the technological forefront.

  • by mpapet (761907) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:05PM (#29610929) Homepage

    The SIM card has cryptographic functions. Now, the bazillion dollar question is there a vaguely consistent cryptographic hook at the phone application layer?

    The follow-on statement for us Yanks is this will never happen. Any attempts to make it so will be summarily ignored by the carriers. Why? Because it contributes to the idea that the carrier is not necessary.

    • by Confused_Enemy (1613781) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:10AM (#29614245)
      Australia Post had similiar issues back when the net first reared its ugly head and email sprouted thereby thwarting the need for snail trails to exist. I believe they even tried to have email taxed. Nowadays, australia post is booming by recently branching into car insurance, after having started a retail outlet that takes in bills and fine payments and stationary supplies, magazines, books (also candy). Competition is healthy and the additional services they were forced to provide have been very helpful in promoting competition in the non communications sector. It will eventually happen. Just 'when' is the million dollar question.
  • by blhack (921171) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:08PM (#29610983)

    Has the ubiquity of Apple really gotten this bad?

    It is "itnews", or "ITnews", not "iTnews".

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:09PM (#29610995) Homepage Journal

    A nice follow-on to Wireless Network Modded To See Through Walls [slashdot.org] , it seems like pairing ZigBee [digi.com] with some cheap GPS chips (say, SiRF Star III) would pretty much do the job. Maybe you could put three of them in there for failover to satisfy reliability requirements, the whole thing would still come in under two hundred bucks for a prototype. :)

  • Battery life (Score:4, Informative)

    by Timmmm (636430) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:11PM (#29611027)

    This idea is as old as the hills (or at least mobile phones). It will never really work well though because who wants to waste their phones battery on relaying other people's data?

    • Re:Battery life (Score:4, Insightful)

      by NotBornYesterday (1093817) * on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:21PM (#29611157) Journal
      I dunno ... about as many as those who "waste" their bandwidth seeding torrents?
      • Re:Battery life (Score:4, Insightful)

        by JesseMcDonald (536341) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:29PM (#29611257) Homepage

        Unless you're up against a monthly transfer cap, seeding while you're not otherwise using the network doesn't cost you anything. On the other hand, running the WiFi and Bluetooth radios (and the CPU) may significantly reduce your mobile's battery life, which is already much too short for most people's tastes already.

        • by mattack2 (1165421) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:59PM (#29612927)

          It costs you in that your power bill is higher (and unless you're entirely solar, the local power plant puts out more pollution).

          • by JesseMcDonald (536341) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:04PM (#29617811) Homepage

            If the computer was going to be on anyway then the increase in power required to seed a file is insignificant. For that matter, based on my own UPS-measured power requirements of ~150W (including peripherals) and an average cost of about $0.08/kW*h, running my PC 24/7 would cost only 28.8 cents per day, or $8.77 per month. That's relatively insignificant compared to the recurring cost of a cell phone or an Internet connection--and anyone worried about such a small part of their power bill probably wouldn't leave their computer on just to seed a torrent anyway.

            • by mattack2 (1165421) on Friday October 02, 2009 @02:30PM (#29619721)

              Yes, but my point is that I think FAR too many people leave their computers on all the time for no good reason. I *shut down* my work computers when I go home, and otherwise try to keep the sleep time very soon or manually put them to sleep. (In other ways, I do use a lot of energy, e.g. Tivos constantly running -- I wish I could turn off their half hour buffer and have them power down when not recording what I told them to record.)

        • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @09:08PM (#29612989) Homepage Journal

          If people would care about their battery life, they wouldn't buy iPhones, right?

          But the point is valid, battery drain is pretty much the only limiting factor. Security can be solved by public-key crypto (even self-managing systems like this one [ieee.org]).

          Store-carry-forward networks will work best for delay-tolerant traffic of low to medium throughput (email, txt messaging), but why not push-to-talk too? Speex doesn't produce large files for a minute of talking. The thing can be extended to VANETs too.

          I'd love to see some practical research done.

    • by rabble (22388) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:33PM (#29611303)

      Answer: Those who are plugged into a power outlet and can charge (or get some sort of credit) for the service.

      Most of the MANET routing stacks provide for optional routing anyway. So, if you don't want to forward for someone else, don't.

      There has been a lot of work done on MANETS. Just search almost anywhere for "mobile ad hoc networking". Wikipedia has a short article that looks like a good starting place for a beginner.

    • Re:Battery life (Score:3, Informative)

      by dominious (1077089) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:17PM (#29611781)
      There are a lot of network protocols designed to save as much energy as possible. Check Low Power Listening. This is actually an interesting idea and there is much research from Cambridge UK too (see Pocket Switched Networks). In the end yes, there is more energy usage, but technology will progress:)
      • by Dare nMc (468959) on Friday October 02, 2009 @09:32AM (#29615909)

        not necessarily. Blue-tooth is around 0.1 watts, cellphone network is 1+ watt. Also using batteries (roughly) doubles the power cost over plugged in. So if we end up with a bunch of always connected smartphones allowing wired/home/cars to handle the big 1 watt jump, and using the 0.1 watt bluetooth first. the 0.25 watt 802.11 next, then finally the 1 Watt cellphone as a last resort, or if you have a powered device.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:20PM (#29611141)

    We are addressing how you would quickly establish trust between devices...

    In a word, don't. GSM phones today already have a PRNG built-in, which is specific to that SIM card. Use it! The only pieces of information any device in between the clients is source, destination, and maybe some QoS bits, and a few other transport-related fields. The content should be end-to-end encrypted, just like it would with IPv6.

    Cell phone networks don't have strong trust models as it is right now -- so there's little point in making your "ad hoc" network more secure than the real one. Realistically, you just need to make it as secure as it is today (a low bar to beat). The goal here is rapid communication, not rapid secure communication.

    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday October 02, 2009 @01:17PM (#29618749) Homepage Journal

      I disagree strongly. Encrypting all possible communication is the only way to avoid eventual government surveillance of all communication. Even recent history provides us with ample concrete proof; The USPS has the right to open your mail if in their judgment it presents any risk. The Federal government is known to be tapping all long-distance telephone communications, and has admitted via press release to reading the sender, recipient, and subject of all email traveling over the public internet. Encrypting your voice communications is therefore only the responsible thing to do if you wish to avoid this culture of surveillance by a repressive government. Even if you don't think that's this government, not taking this step today will enable the fascists of tomorrow to take advantage of our trust.

      The stories posted in the last few days paint a picture of a surveillance future like Minority Report, except one in which the subjects don't need to accept bugs into their house and hold still to be identified [cyberpunkreview.com]; instead, insect-like robots and robot-like insects [slashdot.org] will use collective senses [slashdot.org] to locate and identify you without you even being aware of it.

  • by moxley (895517) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:26PM (#29611227)

    I think this sort of decentralized network is a great idea - it's something we need to see more of, and has tons of uses.

    Can you imagine if an application was released that created just such an "off of the network" mesh and would work with most phones and it caught on like Napster did? Can you imagine how the mobile providers would go apeshit if large groups of people circumvented their network and were able to communicate on their own?

  • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:34PM (#29611311)
    So...they're talking about a Skype-like protocol that operates full-time on existing handsets?

    For those of who who are unaware, Skype operates as a P2P client, with your voice chats being routed through other Skype clients within the network. Some nodes (particularly long-lived ones that are well provisioned for bandwidth) are designated for taking more of the routing duties than others. Basically, they're talking about doing the same thing here.

    Essentially, all they're suggesting is a version of that client that runs as a background process on a handset so that it can forward and route calls between other users of that handset. I'm certainly in favor of the idea. As others have pointed out, it has the potential to negate the need for carriers altogether, but it would also have a few severe drawbacks if it was used as the sole means of connecting handsets.

    For instance, in geographical areas that are sparsely populated, if a small number of handsets exist on the border between two neighboring areas that are densely populated, those handsets would get routed a significant amount of the traffic. As such, people who live, say, halfway between two major cities might find that their batteries drain incredibly fast since they're constantly having to route calls between other users. That would only exacerbate the problem, since those routes would then go offline as the handsets powered down, leaving even less handsets to take the load. Problems like that are avoided with the centralization that we currently enjoy with cell phone towers, but would have to be addressed if we wanted to switch to only using a mesh.

    There's also the issue of guaranteeing connectivity. If we're relying solely on this mesh, it's possible that you're not in range of anyone else's handset. While that issue also exists within a current cell network, the problem here is that dead zones cannot always be foreseen in advance, since people entering or exiting your vicinity could create dynamic dead zones. The nice thing about the current cell network is that coverage is supposed to be guaranteed, whereas no such guarantee could be made with a mesh; your service might cut out at any time, particularly in rural areas.

    There's also the issue of reaching critical mass, since the mesh would be utterly worthless if you didn't have other clients in your locale with which you could communicate and route. If you established a transitionary time to switch from cell to mesh, you might have some success, but you couldn't do it immediately.

    As for mixing the mesh with the existing carriers...seems like a good idea for emergencies and what not. I know that when hurricane Ike struck here a few years back, things were really spotty for a few days simply due to the networks getting swamped and some of the towers being taken down outright by the storm. This sort of thing has the potential to supplement the existing network and take some of the burden off of it, especially during difficult times.
    • by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:15PM (#29611753)

      Rural areas was the first thing I thought about I imagine a line of farmers stretching between two big cities, and having to carry the entire load between them.
       
      Would you be able to support this with some fixed nodes around the outskirts of densely populated areas that then connect to each other by a fibre? (I'm thinking like the internet, you need to have your backbones for the network to be anything resembling reliable.)

      • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:24PM (#29612353)
        I think you'd really have to work off of a plan like what you suggested. Not only would it serve to alleviate traffic (if a backbone can take the traffic, that means that you don't have to route it through a few dozen or hundred handsets), but it'd also be more reliable. The Internet is a great example of how something like this can be made to work, but again, we'd still be relying on some level of infrastructure, rather than being able to do away with it altogether. Until wireless is more ubiquitous, which may just be a few years away, I believe that we won't be able to implement a full mesh effectively.
        • by iamhigh (1252742) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @10:27PM (#29613361)
          You know though... in rural areas privately owned antennas aren't unusual. They are usually for TV, but increasingly used for point-to-point wireless broadband to a local ISP. If we could add a permanent backbone, either using an internet connection or continuing the mesh theme connecting to other towers, or both that could be enough to cover the whole little town with some solid connections to nearby towns. Seems somewhat doable, but I would worry about permits, regulations and such.
  • by Zadaz (950521) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:40PM (#29611387)

    Forget independent scientists, Japan's government has been testing this for a number of years. It would be mandated in all new handsets so once there was a major disaster (and Japan loves it's natural disasters) emergency communication would be possible. Like the Emergency Broadcast System only not unidirectional.

    Several years ago I saw a demo where text messages were relayed from phone to phone across most of Tokyo without ever connecting to the infrastructure. It wouldn't be fast, but it would be invaluably helpful with rescue and recovery efforts.

  • by mungewell (149275) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:51PM (#29611515)

    Just one comment... battery life. If each user's cell phone had to relay messages on behalf of the 'mesh' it would probably be flat in not much time.

    The HAM radio community already have active emergency planning groups and ideas about setting up disaster communications, the most important aspect is to moderate what makes it onto the airwaves. Watching streaming video of the disaster is probably not needed when a simple broadcast SMS would do.

  • by SpaceGhost (23971) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:16PM (#29611765)

    This posting [slashdot.org] on Slashdot from October 4th 2001 really hit home, describing a "P2P SMS technique where individual handsets act as autonomous SMS relays". And why can't we do this? Would it require independance from cell carriers? With wednesdays report to congress [npr.org] on the failure to upgrade the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, maybe we do need an ad-hoc alternative.
      (After feeling useless after 9/11 the October 2001 post got me thinking. By the end of November 2001 I had my first ham radio license, now I'm and Extra class and now when something happens I've usually been at an EOC, although the last couple of years have been supporting Red Cross.)

  • by kimvette (919543) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:09PM (#29612213) Homepage Journal

    How much is AT&T or $PROVIDER going to compensate me for the use of my bandwidth and electricity?

    Are they going to respect any bandwidth caps I wish to impose, even when I do not disclose them beforehand and instead insist that I am allowing them UNLIMITED MESHING through my phone?

    Are they going to agree to forbid the routing of packets from VPN and tethering through my phone, even though I will be heavily advertising those features as benefits of my providing a connection point in this mesh network?

    If not, then make joining the mesh network opt-in, please! Fair is fair!

    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday October 02, 2009 @11:58AM (#29617737) Homepage Journal

      This isn't for use by $PROVIDER, it's peer to peer. I pay you for use of my bandwidth by giving you use of mine. This is about using your phone's bluetooth for calls, not for using its phone network.

      I call you via mesh, and the phone attempts to locate you through the mesh. If it finds you, the call is free. If it can't find you on the mesh network, it calls you on $PROVIDER's network and I pay for the call (unless I have unlimited minutes)

  • by paulsnx2 (453081) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:22PM (#29612335)

    A Mesh Network running on various home and mobile devices could be used to provide "free" Internet and phone services. Those that are willing to pay for a traditional Internet connection could hook up "gateways" for the Mesh Network to connect to the Internet (and thus VOIP) services. Like other posters note, this does consume battery/power/bandwidth, so it isn't exactly *free*. However, the more nodes on the network, the more capacity the network has (particularly if the devices can transmit with less power when close to other nodes). Nor would any node need to do any transmissions if a "grounded" node (one plugged into some reliable power source) can handle the traffic. A protocol could be developed to have nodes intelligently manage their power available/ transmission obligation trade offs. At least in dense node population situations.

    There is no doubt that a back bone is needed to carry traffic distances. But like mass transit, the last mile is kinda a problem. A mesh network would be a great way to smooth out some of those "last mile" issues, provide coverage where coverage is spotty, and empower regular people to fix environments to work well. That's a huge step up from having to wait on your cell phone provider/ prison warden to decide to fix access.

  • by westlake (615356) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @08:15PM (#29612669)

    One potential scenario could be during an emergency where the mobile phone network was unavailable or clogged. In a city centre, users could set up the network to share information, video, photographs and, depending on the final client applications, even locate friends and loved ones.

    The emergency scenario implies extended and widespread power outages. When you battery dies, it dies, and it just might take you with it.

    The cell phone designer makes certain simplying assumptions: that you will be well within range of a commercial grade repeater mounted high and with a relatively unobstructed line of sight.

    That you aren't trying to hop-scotch your way at street level across midtown Manhatten in a sleet storm.

    You are going to need one hell of an algorithym to manage the load if you allow unrestricted traffic in photos and video under 9/11 conditions.

    What's needed here most is the ability to send a brief - meanignful - text message.

  • by woolio (927141) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @11:08PM (#29613559) Journal

    Are they reinventing HAM radio?

    HAMs (amateur radio operators) invented the mobile ad-hoc network about 50 to 75 years ago [at least].

  • by handy_vandal (606174) on Friday October 02, 2009 @12:25AM (#29613881) Homepage Journal

    If I understand this correctly, we're talking about a peer to peer mobile device network.

  • by hany (3601) on Friday October 02, 2009 @03:27AM (#29614507) Homepage

    Finally.

    Good idea. Hopefully implementation will be also very good and suitable also for times when there is no disaster. :)

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