Mesh Potatos and OLPCs?

Ed McNierney ed at
Wed Mar 23 20:47:44 EDT 2011

John -

While I am not familiar with the Mesh Potato, I have spent some time trying to figure out whether wireless mesh networking is really as hard as the OLPC universe seems to find that it is.

I have come to believe that both wired and wireless mesh networks are really doing pretty well out there in the world, *provided* the nodes are immobile, or relatively so.

The examples you point to seem to fall into the "immobile wireless" category, and I think one is likely to find reasonable success in that field.  And I don't mean *really* immobile, but rather "don't move about very much".  The wireless multi-room music systems from Sonos, for example, seem to use wireless mesh pretty successfully, but the nodes are pretty stable.  And they don't get very dense (you don't put 30 sets of stereo speakers in one room).

I have not found any examples of either (a) dense wireless mesh or (b) highly mobile wireless mesh.  In case (a) I assume that is normally not a problem, so it's not being solved.  In case (b) one encounters the classic OLPC mesh problem - 50 laptops scattered about in children's homes at night all want to act as mesh nodes, while those same 50 laptops all go into the same classroom the next day where they DON'T want to all act as mesh nodes (i.e. they create case (a)).  I don't know of anyone who has successfully solved that problem, other than by the less-than-satisfactory route of giving the users a switch and expecting them to turn mesh on and off as they move.

So I believe many people are having successes with relatively static wireless mesh networks, but I also believe that no one is having success in the scenario OLPC has always wanted to support.  If my latter perception is wrong I would love to know of a counterexample (using any hardware, not just XO laptops).

	- Ed

On Mar 23, 2011, at 7:38 PM, John Gilmore wrote:

> Has anyone used the "Mesh Potato" devices from to
> provide mesh connectivity to a network of OLPCs?
> Eben Moglen's "Freedom Box" mailing list has been exploring whether to
> include mesh in their boxes.  My experience with OLPC's mesh has led
> me to question the risk/reward payoff of doing wireless mesh, though I
> think a wired mesh of Ethernet cables could be very interesting.  But
> others have turned up who are building wireless meshes, who claim to be
> making them work in production.
> Here's one such, the "Mesh Potato" from
> It's a $119 (retail) box with 802.11b/g and a wired phone jack, plus
> Ethernet.  It meshes over 802.11, provides an access point, and lets
> you make phone calls to other Mesh Potatos or any SIP phone reachable
> on the net.  It is open hardware, runs open software, and is designed
> to live outdoors and run on rough rural power.  It unfortunately needs
> detailed sysadmin with Linux shell commands now.  This 1-minute
> embedded YouTube video explains their goals:
> I've edited the enclosed message down to the relevant part:
>  Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2011 14:51:59 -0500
>  From: Charles N Wyble <charles at>
>  To: freedombox-discuss at
>  List-Archive: <>
>  On 3/20/2011 8:44 AM, James Vasile wrote:
>> Meshing is hard.  Nobody I met knows anybody who is nailing mesh
>> networks.  I'm going to get all the mesh heads together soon for a
>> real conversation to see if we can work towards a recommendation on
>> the most promising avenue.
>  Um.... *waves*.  I guess I need to get out more. I've built a few mesh
>  networks over the past year. It's not that hard (it used to be quite
>  difficult, but the underlying bits have really matured).  Us mesh
>  heads hang out at and a few other places (,
> :) We have an annual gathering already,
>  Join the mailing list and say hi. Mesh is moving along, slowly and
>  steadily.  Mesh is the underpinning of an open network. Open networks
>  are the underpinning of everything else.
>  I feel that mesh networks have reached the point of maturity, that
>  they can stand on their own. I feel they are readily and rapidly
>  deployable (plug and play) due to the work of
> Has OLPC seen these before?  If so, what's your experience?
> 	John
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