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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Finally, I was right

4 September 2019

Over five years ago, I wrote a column in which I suggested that it would be a smart idea to use mesh-networks to sidestep mobile networks.

If you want to read that colum, here it is.

Even longer ago I wrote this column back in 2008 which also talked about using mesh networks to provide extended internet coverage outside of regular ISP services.

So mesh networks are nothing new -- in fact let's wind back the clock an impressive 17 years and look at what I was saying about NZ's own IndraNet in this column from 2002.

But who's using mesh networking today? If it's such a great idea, why aren't we all mesh-networking and escaping the tyrany of telcos and ISPs?

Well in some places, mesh networks are a thing.

One such place right now, is Hong Kong.

According to this BBC story, protesters in Hong Kong are using an app that effectively creates an ad-hoc mesh network using the Bluetooth technology in smartphones.

With the Chinese government both actively monitoring telco and ISP traffic, as well as disabling such services as/when required to suppress activists trying to coordinate their activities, an alternative was obviously required.

Mesh network to the rescue!

The app being used is Bridgfy and effectively allows the protestors to communicate with each other over far greater distances than the regular 100m or so that Bluetooth normally covers. In fact it's pretty easy to see that when a million or more people are gathered over a large area, the resulting mesh network could provide pretty effective coverage of that area with multiple redundacy for routing and quite high bandwidth through parallelism.

However, as the BBC report states, the resulting communications might not be immune to eavesdropping by the Chinese authorities as BT isn't the most secure of protocols. As a stop-gap solution to a major problem though, it seems to be doing a good job.

Which brings me back to the points I raised back in one of those earlier columns...

Why aren't all Kiwis making sure they have a mesh-network app on their phones that, in times of civil emergency, be used to establish an alternative to the key pieces of communications infrastructure that will likely be unavailable?

Imagine if, when power, internet and cellphone towers fail (as they eventually will in any prolonged natural disaster), your phone could function as part of a network that provided essential communications services for rescue workers and such. Would that not be a good thing?

Also, with the low cost of solar chargers these days, even dedicating 30 minutes of your precious battery charge to the support of such critical emergency infrastructure wouldn't be too much to ask... would it?

I wonder if our civil defense overlords have even considered this as a viable option for coping with major infrastructure outages? I suspect not.

Here's an idea... why doesn't Civil Defense create an app that not only provides essential warnings and instructions in the event of a disaster, but also turns your phone into an intelligent node of a mesh network when necessary? Surely that would be a world-first and put us in a far stronger position to save lives should the worst happen.

Come on guys... sounds like a plan to me!

What do readers think? Is it crazy that we haven't done this already?

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