In about 5 weeks I'm going to move to Burma. I have been creeping on the darknet subreddit for a while, and I've become very interested in the implementation of a meshnet there. I feel like the largest barrier to entry for a distributed internet is the presence of the current internet -- to people without internet this is no issue. Secondly, it seems to me that the greatest advantages of a meshnet structure is the privacy and dignity of the user. To the people of Burma, who have endured far more oppressive censorship of information than most of us can imagine, the anonymity of the meshnet is even more valuable. Given that the government has very recently halted almost all media censorship and is moving at an alarmingly rapid pace toward open markets and a modern economy, I can think of no better place to tinker with these technologies and ideas.
My personal project upon arrival in March (after securing housing and all of my basic needs) will be to learn more about networking, meshnets, and general internet development in Yangon. A lofty goal would be to set up a small meshnet and teach a few other interested folks nearby how to do the same. I could use some help.
I've got some technical aptitude but no formal training; I have some equipment but no larger organizational backing. FabFi
is my starting point. Keith Berkoben wrote an illuminating dissertation of the implimentation of FabFi in Kenya
. I'll let you read about it yourself if you're interested, but the basic idea is that internet access becomes expensive and cumbersome the moment the fiber stops. Using very cheap materials, simple parabolic dishes can boost a wifi signal much further than it's original spec. Connect one node to fiber and another over a hill or across a river (perhaps the south side of the Yangon river might be a good testing ground), and suddenly an entire township has potentially affordable internet. Add a dash of CJDNS and you have a township that can communicate with the world at large in privacy.
I will be looking to keep an eye on the politics of Burma infocom; I saw a rumor that Burma was opening up development contracts to Ericsson and another international company -- this is good news but I will need to do a lot more legwork before I'll be able to get a good idea of the business/political/technical climate. Before I get ahead of myself, here's what's going to happen:
I'll arrive with the following equipment: -Samsung Chromebook (I will most likely have a Ubuntu build to boot into in case I need more than the internet and a command line) - Galaxy Nexus (unless I get greedy and pick up a Nexus 4) - between 2 and 5 raspberry pis (I have two and may order a few more before I take off). - A cheap Linksys router and maybe a switch.
The goal is to find a way to set up a cheap meshnet using the technologies that are available in the area; the only way this could be successful is if Burmese people can get all the tools they need to set these nodes up on their own without breaking the bank (or bundle of kyatt). The Raspberry pi is cheap and reliable but hard to get still (in Burma, at least), so that's the only exception.
Part of the accessible-tools criterion means that everything has to be open-source
. I need to figure out how to do this using only linux, open-source router firmware, and good ol' google.
If anybody wants to help me in planning or
implementation -- and any help would be fantastic -- let me know. This is the first time I've put down in-silico what has been floating around in my head for a while. My second step here will be drafting a much more detailed statement of project goals and, if that progresses, a business plan.
I've double-posted this in /dorknet/
-- if you are from /dorknet/
check out the Asia-Pacific meshnet sub!
Thanks guys, gichiba
Edit: I've smoothly relocated to Yangon, Myanmar and now I'm on to phase 2: Figuring out what the hell I'm trying to do here.
Update on the telcomm situation: By next month the government will be awarding 2 foreign companies a 15 year contract to lay fiber. Their goals are "to (1) increase the overall tele-density of Myanmar; (2) make telecommunication services widely available to the public at affordable prices; (3) expand the types of available telecommunications services and increase the number of qualified telecommunications service providers; and (4) develop the information and communications technology (ICT) industry." Whether or not they will succeed is another story. The stated goal for telcomm penetration density is 85-90% penetration; right now they sit at a little below 2% -- for comparison that puts them slightly behind North Korea (~15%), and well behind Afghanistan (50%). There are about 90 companies including Google and Cisco who are trying to get into the game, but part of their stipulations for who gets to compete have gotten many companies a little angry -- the government has some fairly arbitrary requirements for candidacy. For instance, a company has to have had the same CEO for at least 4 years, and guarantee that they will remain for the next 4, they must have at least 4 million subscribers by the end of 2012 in their home country, and an additional million in a foreign country, which eliminates a lot of companies right off the bat. Right now a single SIM card for a permanent phone number costs $250USD (in a country who's average daily wage is less than $2), and, of course, a pseudo-civil war is still being worked out in multiple areas near the border. I think I'll have plenty of time to work something out before I have to worry about competing with a real ISP for decent internet.