Long range low bandwidth mesh projects for good

Though we generally discuss how relevant is to have high speed broadband internet, it is also interesting to explore how impactful little but essential data networks can be.

This is the case of a set of wireless telecommunication networks called LPWAN (low-powered wide area networks), that use low power high sensitivity radios. There are many like these but arguably the most widespread one has been LoRa.
These radios’ main use has been focused on Internet of Things projects, but others have chosen to use it for other things…

As this radios have very high sensitivity (though have longer range) and are thought to be reliable in multiple scenarios like urban or remote locations, they can be perfect for basic but essential human-to-human communications (ie. bare-minimum community networks).

There are a set of projects that have gone that way, and that are free software/hardware, namely:

There are a few non-free similar projects, but as they are not open for expansion or ownership by the communities, we shouldn’t focus much on them here.

All of them implement:

  • hardware access
  • mesh routing
  • application layer

All of them are affordable (<U$S 50).

Most of them use the same hardware, like esp32, esp8266 or raspberry pi zero.

They differ in applications:

  • disaster relief
  • hiking
  • bitcoin traiding

I myself see them as potential precursors of broadband internet community networks, and that can support communities getting in touch with each other and building the meaningful connections in between communities to imagine building more broadband-like community networks, and that could strengthen the relation between communities.

Hope more interactions could happen around this kind of networks!

8 Likes

Great stuff Nico!

I preserved your list of projects on disaster radio’s wiki homepage

I would love to see more collaboration and cross-pollination between these projects. I believe we (disaster.radio) have someone from meshtastic interested in using the same protocol as us (LoRaLayer2). So that’s something.

Interested to see if anyone has ideas on how to collaborate? Using the same protocol and sharing hardware designs are a good start. There are also great opportunities to work with community networks, since they typically have access to good node locations and connections in their communities to actually get nodes deployed.

I’m active on the disaster radio mailing list and disaster radio github, https://disaster.radio/connect/, so if there are interested collaborators you can reach me on those platforms.

2 Likes

Hi ya’ll,

I’m Kevin Hester (geeksville) one of the main devs for www.meshtastic.org. I’d be totally happy to work with ya’ll. Sometime in the next weekish I should start on merging the disaster radio protocol. See the (long alas… :wink: ) comments in this github issue for how/why we thought this might be useful: https://github.com/sudomesh/LoRaLayer2/issues/10

2 Likes

hey everyone, bryan from project owl. similarly we would like to find ways to empower more collaboration between these projects. integration at the protocol level seems like a good area to focus. Maybe we can have a discussion at some point?

bryan

2 Likes

New Research Article on LoRa - low-cost, low-power consumption
solution to provide messaging to isolated communities.

Cardenas, A.M., Nakamura Pinto, M.K., Pietrosemoli, E. et al. A Low-Cost and Low-Power Messaging System Based on the LoRa Wireless Technology. Mobile Netw Appl 25, 961–968 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11036-019-01235-5

2 Likes

new guide to meshtastic: https://meshtastic.letstalkthis.com/#getstarted

That looks interesting Eric - few things are noticeable

  • I know its low bandwidth, but there is no mention of what that bandwidth is in practical situations.
  • It says 11km range line-of-site, I’m wondering what the typical range is in various other cases, for example forest, mountainous terrain or city (at ground level).

LoRa is usually used with a well sited base station, so I’m wondering what it really works like in this mesh form

Also … that guide makes meshtastic significantly less intimidating, but it doesn’t show how to attach the battery, which makes me wonder…

Found some useful forum discussions here. Glad people are getting 11km+ los, but I’d also love to see numbers from a few of the GPS-enabled units roaming around urban & informal areas.

Looks like battery attachment depends on the board, battery and case used. There are some nice designs on thingiverse.

Marco Zennaro might have some data. I know he was doing similar work a few years ago. I’ll ask him to jump in here.