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The "Internet in a Suitcase" Goes Alpha in Occupy D.C.

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, December 15 2011

Sascha Meinrath's "Internet in a Suitcase" project gets a test-drive in Occupy D.C. and a write-up on The project's goal, funded with the help of an investment from the U.S. State Department, is to develop the hardware and software combination necessary to run a "mesh network" — a network of computers that collectively do the work of routing traffic for one another rather than relying on an Internet service provider to do it for them and is flexible in how it manages traffic flowing to and from the broader Internet. Such a network could keep protesters connected, for example, if a country with state-controlled Internet access decided to shut off the tubes. But if it was easy, it would be done already, as Wired reports:

The signal strength starts conking out when you walk the roughly 50 feet from the media tent to the center of the square. There are typically 3 or 4 laptops from the media team simultaneously using Commotion — its not clear how many other devices are also taxing the system. It doesn’t help that there’s a single connection to the net — a 1 Mbps connection at that — which is linked to by a long range antenna. That kind of connection is thin for livestreaming, even for one person in ideal conditions.

Josh King, the technical lead on the project, is excited, even if the protesters aren’t.

“It’s software under development,” King said. “This is a great opportunity to test it, to get this kind of feedback and make changes in real time.”

“It’s a real test bed,” adds Meinrath. “We’re getting the good, bad and ugly … It’s not as stable as we would like, but we working in real world where we don’t have optimum anything. It’s a pre-alpha release providing connectivity to several hundred people.”