When starting to think about building a Mesh Network there are a number considerations we discovered along the way:
Consider who the mesh network is for.
- Who is the community you are working to support?
- What does the community need? (is internet a primary concern? If not, perhaps your considerations of a mesh network need to shift in order to meet people where their needs are)
- How does the community engage with the internet currently, and what issues or gaps could a mesh fix?
- What do potential users ultimately need the internet for? How will
they use it? For example, is there a need to use the internet to access programs? To pay bills online? To communicate with others? The answers to these questions will help you determine the location for your primary node (and what other elements might be helpful to have onsite).
Consider a location for the network’s first node that might reach the most people.
Consider practical issues:
- Access for the community (is the location accessible all hours? Are there places to sit while connecting to the internet? Are there places to charge devices? Is the location weather-proof or protected?)
- Consider your ability to setup technology (is there power? Easily accessible rooftops other ways to mount hardware?)
- Consider: relationships with landlords don’t always support the needs of a mesh network (how can you have control over your node location that is open with easy permissions?)
- Consider how weather might affect the hardware over time (Strong rain and heavy winds may affect the signal your node sends out)
Consider the cost. How will you fund your mesh network: initially, but also into the future?
- Consider the cost of hardware (in our case we used a Unifi Network Server: total hardware costs under $1500)
- Consider the cost of installation - are there people within the community with knowledge of how to install and maintain hardware? How will you compensate them for their time and work?
- Consider the cost of the internet itself that will be shared across users. Will you have one primary account that is shared across the growing network? Your own IP? In the case of Stolon Mesh, we are using a shared internet account at a cost of approximately $1200 per year. The initial node is funded through a grant and stewarded by 221A’s fellowship research program. Our funding is now in place for 1 year and once a local community of stewards and organizations are onboard with maintaining the network into the future, we hope to find new funding to maintain it.
Consider how to help those within the community understand how the mesh network works, and how it might be a new way of thinking about the utility of the internet.
- A mesh network is more than just free internet! It can help reorganize the ways communities work and support one another.
- We’re accustomed to thinking about our internet access as private and individual, when in actuality it is able to be shared. Consider that the reach of a mesh network need not be massive (especially at first) - perhaps your community is within the same housing or apartment complex. A mesh network could be designed to offer shared internet for everyone within your building.
- Shifting this narrative will help others become interested in being responsible for and maintaining the mesh network into the future.
- Consider how those using the mesh might begin to become stewards of it, how they might take responsibility for maintaining the network and perhaps becoming hosts of additional nodes as well
Consider what terms of service will you require users sign off on in order to access the internet.
- What approaches to the terms of service might be necessary for your particular community? What sort of language should they be written in? What degree of brevity? Should they be translated into multiple languages? How might they be written in a way that remains flexible as time passes and needs of the community change? How might they help create shared goals for the network itself?)