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How to Build a Low-Tech Internet (lowtechmagazine.com)
135 points by lispython on Oct 27, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments

Incredible that an entire article could be written without mentioning the Amateur Radio Packet network which dates back to the '70's.

The problem is you're not allowed to use Amateur Radio for anything "useful". You can chat with your friends, but for instance you'd never want to use it for email or online banking because encryption isn't allowed. You also can't conduct commercial transactions over it, except to occasionally sell a radio.

In my experience there is (or at least was) very strong animosity between HAMs and people who build networks of this kind. To some extent I view that as conflict between doing things "the right way" and "it works, so what".

Amateur radio also has a lot of rules, and you have some people whose primary interest in the hobby seems to be tearing down other peoples work by citing FCC (or equivalent) regs.

I'm thinking in particular about the rule that encryption is banned on amateur bands, which really makes it not suitable for general internet access. More sensible people just ignore those rules, and that creates animosity with the above-mentioned group.

Well, hams are doing their thing on their bands, and if somebody comes in and stomps all over the bands (cough WINLINK cough) it's kind of a dick move. Luckily, most of the ham bands are so low in frequency that they're not really suitable for general Internet access.

2m could get you dialup speeds over a pretty wide radius with some cheap equipment. Get a directional antenna and a hilltop repeater and you'd be in even better shape. The FCC absolutely could shave off a small chunk of the 2m band for encryption-OK Internet links (say, as a way to link up smaller wifi nets), but you're right, most hams would kick and scream even though they all just sit idle on whatever local repeater. And I'd have a hard time blaming them (I'm a ham myself) because they do not want to set a precedent of losing any band space.

High-power wifi is allowed with an amateur radio license, but because you're operating as an amateur licensee you're not allowed to use encryption, so you can't use it to e.g. bring Internet access to a remote RV park.

Sure, rules on maximum transmit power and such make sense, to ensure emissions do not interfere with other users. But why should a licensed amateur not be able to transmit on the bands using encryption, provided the transmission is clearly marked with the callsign of the operator?

As it is right now, it makes packet radio pretty much useless, because you can't use it for internet access, since you'd most likely end up accessing TLS services.

I'm on the same page here with you--I agree that packet radio is pretty useless for internet access. It's pretty useless for anything except talking to other amateur radio operators, and all they want to talk about is radio and, sometimes, Obama.

But that's what the amateur service is, it's people playing with radios because they think radios are cool. Because it's mostly real-time conversations, the bands aren't insanely congested; if I tried to fetch my email over an encrypted signal on the 40m band, I'm going to tie up a big chunk of the available frequencies for possibly hours on end (cough yacht owners running WINLINK cough).

You'd have to eliminate the "no commercial business" rule too, because fetching your mining operation's email looks pretty similar to browsing ham forums when everything is encrypted.

I agree that it should be mentioned. But afaik you often have to be certified to even use packet radios.

This article almost exclusively deals with unlicensed, spectrum and consumer grade hardware.

Great quote from the article, "The internet as we know it in the industrialized world is a product of an abundant energy supply, a robust electricity infrastructure, and sustained economic growth. It cannot survive if these conditions change."

Sort of like sending Morse Code over a radio hooked to a 9 volt battery. Twenty words per minute seems slow until that's all you have.

The other important point to take away from the article is that most of humanity is in slow/no internet regions.

>The internet as we know it in the industrialized world is a product of an abundant energy supply, a robust electricity infrastructure, and sustained economic growth. It cannot survive if these conditions change.

I was going to run the numbers for Elon Musk's 4000 satellite low-latency global gigabit pizza-box phased-array rooftop antenna internet, but I think that's even more dependent on those conditions. SpaceX is shooting for a new hardware spin every 5 years.

    Musk's 4000 satellite low latency global gigabit
    pizza box phased array rooftop antenna internet
I don't think you can give a better description than that.

Many places with declining GDP still have great internet because it's just not that expensive. Also, bandwidth's utility is generally a log function. Don't forget the telegraph was valuable enough to run under sea and cross country cables starting in 1850 and that's ~10bits per second with several cables being run in the next few years.

By 1901 we had a global network: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_communications_cable... (all this for ~10–12 words per minute.)

The internet is not a high energy industry when compared to a steel or aluminum plant.

And the rest of the article is naive at best and seems to ignore that PTP radio has been used in telecoms for decades.

"sustained economic growth" is the most likely of those to be interrupted, which is concerning. As is the extent to which we're dependent on free VC-funded ad-supported services.

I don't see a justification for "sustained economic growth" being a requirement?

As long as bandwidth requirements don't grow too much, solar panels can keep most routers alive, and most of the hardware don't need much maintenance. So ever increasing profits isn't exactly a requirement.

Interestingly, the TCP/UDP alternatives they're talking about (delay tolerant networks) are also very important on the other side of things, interplanetary networking[0].

Hard problems have a way of cropping up in lots of places...

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_Internet

This is the place where all these communities meet every year - http://battlemesh.org/

It seems fitting that this event is taking place in Slovenia. I read a bunch of stuff recently about how there's an excellent homebrew packet radio network in the mountains there - http://www.hamradio.si/~s51kq/PACKET.HTM

Since when is WIFI considered low tech?

I think these definitions need a bit of a rehaul, flying baloons are much more low tech then WiFi antenna IMO.

These networks tend to be mostly WiFi based because the hardware is cheap enough that homegrown "low-tech" alternatives (like FSO or custom radio protocols) are more expensive.

I remember that ~15 years ago building these sort of networks involved various experiments with hooking up various home-grown radio modems or gutted laser pointers to serial ports, but today the technology of choice is either WiFi or commercial microwave PTP links operating in unlicensed spectrum (which are order of magnitude more expensive than WiFi, but have significantly better performance, also unlicensed spectrum usable for such links is not available in every country).

RONJA (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RONJA) is one such homebrew free-space optical (FSO) link.

More like low-resource networks, or maybe hobby-grade infrastructure?

Perhaps "low-cost" is a better adjective. Wi-Fi hardware and knowledge are ubiquitous — the article says the buying Wi-Fi hardware is cheaper than rolling your own.

Also, I'd imagine if the people setting up the network leave, others will have an easier time maintaining if the network uses a very popular link layer.

what about flying balloons with wifi antennae - Seen a working version yet?

Precious Lunga spoke at Business of Software on this topic, seems like the work of Econet Wireless seems to be trying to address this issue. Some interesting stats here: http://www.slideshare.net/marklittlewood/bos2015-precious-lu...

Additionally there is a whole raft of IoT enabled devices making this possible too - think the future is bright :)

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