Here at D2D we cover a lot of ground from apps to small cells, from mobile ads to small microwave backhaul. We know that our readers come from many different backgrounds and not all of our content is relevant to all our readers. So for the network- and equipment-heads out there thank you for reading this far, we now have something for you. And if you are a softwarrier stick around this may interest you to. We promise there is an app in here.
In the last two years carriers have made real progress in improving their network capacities. (Most Improved Award goes to AT&T in the Bay Area. Thank you, your work is appreciated.) Despite this, bottlenecks still exist. There are only so many places to install base stations and we mobile consumers are very greedy for more bandwidth. More. More….
Part of the solution to this will be small cells, but these are still a few years away from commercialization (see D2D #1 for more on this). So we were very interested to meet privately-held Open Garden. They have revived the idea of “mesh networks”. This seems to be the “Back to the Future” issue of D2D as Mesh Networks are a concept that have been trolling around wireless for a long time, only to fade away as development proved difficult.
The idea of a mesh network, or more specifically an ad-hoc mesh network, is that mobile devices not only talk to a base station but also to each other. This allows devices with better access to the core Internet to serve as a bridge for other devices in the mesh. With current cellular architecture, the more phones in one area the weaker the connection for everyone as all these devices have to share bandwidth from a single base station. Think Fenway Park when the Yankees are playing – a crowded and hostile network. In theory, mesh networks offer improved capacity as the number of devices grow. Devices have more ways to find and share core access. This is especially true if the mesh can merge connections from multiple wireless carriers and Wi-Fi.
Part of the reason this idea has faded is that it is fiendishly hard to do. Devices have to keep track of many more connections and know who to share what with. Fortunately, smartphones are now reaching the point that they have the processing power to do all this.
Open Garden has taken advantage of this to develop a true mesh networking solution. They have figured out numerous ways to both detect and share Internet connectivity across pretty much any kind of radio you can think, and probably a few more. Their app is now available on Google Play where it is prominently featured. (We promised you an app in this article.) For all the network aficionados out there this should be heady stuff.
This is more than tethering your tablet to your smartphone. Using Open Garden, you can build and share networks among family members, friends, and co-workers. It is not hard to envisage some interesting combinations here. To make up an example, tie Open Garden to social networks and let all your Facebook friends share Internet access when they are close to one of your connected devices. There are many more possibilities.
Of course, all of this carries some meaningful complexities. How do you ration access on a limited data plan? What role will the carriers play in all this? What is the best way to distribute the Open Garden software? As an early-stage start-up, Open Garden is not sharing all its magic just yet, but it is clear we are in early days of something that could prove very important.