What do Sayada, Tunisia, and Red Hook, Brooklyn, have in common? At first glance, not much. One is a fishing town on the Mediterranean Sea. The other is a waterfront neighborhood in an industrial section of America’s largest city. But both are using a networking technology that is cheap, relatively easy to set up, and remarkably resilient and secure.
Called a mesh network, the technology lets users connect directly to each other rather than through a central hub. For the citizens of Sayada, that means they can create a community network free from government surveillance or interference. For residents of Red Hook, the local mesh network helps them stay connected during power outages.
Of course, mesh networks aren’t new. They’ve been operating in Europe for years. They are, however, relatively new to the U.S., where they are just starting to catch on. In Detroit, where some neighborhoods don’t have access to broadband, mesh networks are seen as a low-cost solution to the digital divide that exists there. And for many local governments, mesh networks are a relatively simple way to offer high-speed Wi-Fi. Ponca City, Okla., has adopted mesh as a means of delivering free wireless broadband to all of its 25,000 residents.