An new app from Open Garden allows Wi-Fi network owners to share their password with the startup’s shared bandwidth community.
See on gigaom.com
An new app from Open Garden allows Wi-Fi network owners to share their password with the startup’s shared bandwidth community.
See on gigaom.com
One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), which debuts its XO Learning System on the new XO Tablet developed through a strategic partnership with Vivitar under exclusive license from OLPC, has partnered with Open Garden to provide seamless Internet connectivity for the tablet. Open Garden, a San Francisco startup focused on developing mobile wireless software, will provide Android mesh networking as a preloaded app on the new XO Tablets, allowing seamless Internet connectivity by dispersing 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi signals between nearby smartphones, tablets and computers.
OLPC’s mission is to create opportunities for learning by making and distributing low-cost laptops to children across the globe. Open Garden provides access to knowledge by developing free technology for sharing connectivity among users. This visionary alignment leverages the natural link between education and technology contributed respectively by OLPC’s long-standing experience in learning and Open Garden’s free app for sharing and crowdsourcing mobile internet.
Micha Benoliel, co-founder and CEO, said: “Open Garden is really pleased to help children be better connected on their XO Tablets. We are thrilled to participate in an initiative to facilitate interactive education and access to knowledge. We believe that this is a great step towards democratizing mesh networking technologies. This partnership takes us closer to our long term vision which is to build a network made of connected devices and provide Internet access to everyone.”
Rodrigo Arboleda, chairman and CEO of OLPC, added: “Our partnership with Open Garden that enables access to the wealth of information and media available via the internet is a critical component to education and social inclusion.”
Open Garden is ideally suited for areas with poor connectivity. The app utilizes multi-hop technology, hopping from one node to the next until an Internet signal is reached, then dispersing that signal across the network. This unique software application also subverts traditional notions of scarcity in wireless networks: as the network of Open Garden nodes increases in density, the stronger and more reliable the network becomes.
The family-friendly XO Tablet from OLPC is the first and only tablet designed to help kids explore their dreams and spark their imaginations. The only multilingual (English/Spanish) and Google-Certified tablet for kids, the XO Tablet is available now at Walmart stores, Walmart.com and other U.S. retailers through OLPC’s strategic partner Vivitar, a Sakar company. For more information, visit www.xotablet.com.
I am a member of the Open Garden Community because I believe in the power of liberating technology.
Just over two years ago I moved to San Francisco without a job but with a bit of money saved up so I could find a job I really wanted. Luckily enough, by the end of the month I found a startup that was doing really exciting things and needed a technical intern. Once I actually understood the concept and mission of Open Garden, I knew it was a dream company for someone like myself who sees technology as the primary means for universal liberation and Internet as a key component.
Today, Open Garden’s mission to bring Internet everywhere continues to resonate with me and if you share a similar desire then I invite you to join the community to share your thoughts and become a part of the conversation!
Just over a month ago, I started organizing weekly Google + Hangouts to talk to the community directly. So far, we’ve covered a range of topics relating to the Open Garden mesh including different situations where the app would be helpful, individual use vs. community use, how to mesh your local community and even general app concerns and suggested improvements.
So be sure to join us every Wednesday evening at 5:30pm PT (8:30pm EST) to share your input or simply listen in! This project is designed to benefit the community members while spreading the word to new individuals that share the same vision.
Last month, the team at Open Garden was presenting at Orange, the hippest telecom provider in the world! The topic for the evening was ‘We Are the Network: Mesh/p2p Networking in the Age of Mobile,” featuring a live Open Garden mesh co-created with folks in the audience followed by a lively Q&A.
Devabhaktuni Srikrishna (“Sri”) took the stage next to discuss the problems of static WiFi mesh networks and the promising potential of an LTE social mesh, created through the conglomeration of individual mobile devices. In a series of excellent, data-rich slides, Sri demonstrated the density of Open Garden users that would be necessary to create a fully-connected mesh in urban (5-7%) and suburban (18-21%) areas.
The team at Open Garden thanks Orange for hosting a fabulous event that enabled open and intelligent conversation in an intimate setting perfect for fostering curiosity and engagement. Here’s to many more passionate conversations on the future of the internets!
Internet privacy has been in the news recently after leaked documents revealed PRISM, NSA’s ongoing domestic surveillance program. Although most people do not have the time to think about attempting to counter surveillance, tools exist for those that are interested in anonymizing online traffic. Such tools won’t prevent Google from having a database of your emails or searches, but for example, can obscure your IP address for login sessions.
Specifically, the Tor Project supports a collection of alternative services that run over the Tor network and are built for aiding anonymity.
What is Tor?
From their website:
“Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet.
“Today, it is used every day for a wide variety of purposes by normal people, the military, journalists, law enforcement officers, activists, and many others.”
It is not used by the general Internet population because this process of sending traffic through a network of tunnels slows down the speed and at times significantly. Additionally, some user experience on websites is lost through the obstruction of your IP address. Most importantly, however, are the habit changes necessary to properly use Tor anonymously. Their download page warns:
You need to change some of your habits, as some things won’t work exactly as you are used to. Please read the full list of warnings for details.
For these reasons, it is common for people that like to use Tor, to run it for specific tasks like being tracked by particular websites or gaining access to websites that their ISP have blocked. Attempting to use Tor for all Internet traffic can be cumbersome and at times insufferable especially when you need to be efficient on the Internet. However in the end, where anonymity is particularly important Tor hidden services can be of assistance.
Configuring Tor to route traffic to the Open Garden network
If you do not already use Tor, I suggest reading through their website and that list of warnings. If after deciding you want to give it a try, install the Tor Browser Bundle and come back here to read how to point the client to route traffic over Open Garden.
If you already use Tor, simply change the proxy settings in Vidalia (desktop client) to point at 127.0.0.1 port 1080 on a SOCKS 5. Here’s the screenshot from the Mac client:
After changing those settings, Tor should point to Open Garden! Easy as that! Tor won’t work if these settings are in place and Open Garden isn’t running, but Open Garden is designed to stay running in the background anyways.
What about mobile?
Tor has an Android bundle named Orbot, but is unfortunately affected by an Android bug that doesn’t properly check for Internet connectivity. We are currently in discussion with the Guardian Project folks (who have been quite responsive) about fixing this issue but do not currently have an ETA. Keep in touch via our Facebook Page, Twitter account or online community to stay updated!
**Update: An upgrade to Orbot was pushed today (August 19th, 2013) which enables pointing Tor traffic on your Android to Open Garden! To enable, you must change a couple settings in the Orbot app. First of all, change the “Outbound Network Proxy” settings like you would on the desktop client. The type will be “Socks5″, the host is 127.0.0.1 and the port is 1080 (no username or password). Then scroll all the way to the bottom of the settings under “Debug” and uncheck “Network Auto-Sleep”. This will bypass the Android ConnectivityManager which says there’s no Internet when WiFi or mobile data is unavailable and keep Orbot running so Open Garden can be used for connectivity.
As more Wi-Fi hotspots are established and open for everyone to use, they also become a target for hackers trying to illegally access private information on your device. Here are some tips for keeping your information secure as you use Wi-Fi hotspots.
Often you will have a choice of hotspots in a given area. Make sure you only choose ones that you are sure is secure and legitimate. Malicious hackers may have set up peer-to-peer networks masquerading as Wi-Fi hotspots that have innocent names like “Free Wi-Fi” and “Airport Wi-Fi.” Once you connect to these networks and start accessing the Internet through their machines, all the data you upload and download will be accessible by the hacker. Also called the Evil Twin attack, you may compromise your passwords for accounts you access, or also be giving hackers access to all your files if you have file sharing turned on in your device.
If you have a choice among all the legitimate hotspots, choose ones that are password protected. If you have a choice of Wi-Fi encryption methods among secure networks, choose the most secure one available. WPA2 is the most secure; WPA is less so; and WEP encryption is the weakest. It is less common to find unsecured networks in the public these days, but when you do, make sure its not a hacker-created network.
On Windows PCs, the “Set Network Location” pops up when you connect to a new network. It will prompt you to choose between “Home”, “Work” or “Public” network location. On public Wi-Fi hotspots, always pick “Public Network”. The Public Network location setting blocks file and printer sharing, disables network discovery, and hides the Home Group, which shuts off the most common avenues for hackers to access data on your device.
Don’t store passwords on your computer. If the hacker has access to your files, don’t let one of them be a list of all your passwords to your bank accounts and credit card sites.
Use websites with the HTTPS prefix or SSL turned on. Most banking sites and other sites which handle sensitive information are only available via HTTPS. But consider using HTTPS for all the sites that you visit.
Paired with technologies such as Open Garden, the ubiquity and portability of Wi-Fi usage is exploding. Through four blog articles, I reviewed the basics of mesh networking, Wi-Fi Hotspot standards and innovations, usability and security issues with Wi-Fi Hotspots. I hope you now have a better understanding of how Open Garden fits into the larger evolution of Wi-Fi accessibility.
Wi-Fi Hotspots are exploding worldwide, turning stores and coffee shops into virtual offices. Businesses such as Starbucks and McDonalds offer Wi-Fi hotspots as a marketing tool to attract customers. However, as usage expands beyond the technically savvy set to the mass market users, some usability issues have come to the fore.
Many users often don’t understand that Wi-Fi hotspots require logging in via a web page. And if they don’t launch the browser, the login web page won’t show up, even though the device manager (the wireless symbol) indicates that the device is already connected. People may have a pre-existing browser page open, or they may be trying to access their email client, which won’t work because they haven’t logged in.
To ease network congestion, businesses such as Starbucks often put time limits on access to free Wi-Fi Hotspots. Similar to the login issues above when starting to use the service, users may get logged out due to time limits without any warning. Again, the wireless availability indicator on the device will continue to show that the device is still connected, and users may not realize they’ve lost their connectivity until its too late.
As Wi-Fi Hotspots become commonplace, most users forget that there is a lot of complicated device recognition and authentication that occurs in the background. Often the complexity is masked by automation of these processes. However, when the automated connection does not occur, the manual steps required to establish a connection can be daunting for all but the IT specialist. A manual connection may require the user to open the device’s connection manager, select the service set identifier (SSID) of the network, launch the browser, enter the URL, and enter credentials. This is one of the big pain points of user complaints and help requests related to Wi-Fi login at hotels.
At some spots in an urban area, there are often more than a dozen Wi-Fi hotspots that shows up as choices for the device to connect to. There can easily be multiple networks with the same name and users may unknowingly connect to the wrong network. There may be a risk that this gives strangers access to their devices if they are not careful.
The Wi-Fi connection speed depends on several factors:
1) the type of Internet connection that the hotspot offers
2) number of users trying to access the same network
3) bandwidth usage by users on the network
4) interference from neighboring networks, whose channels can overlap and hinder performance and range
In many crowded cafes and Wi-Fi Hotspots in densely populated urban neighborhoods, the Wi-Fi connection speeds can be so slow and spotty that it becomes hard to use. Given that many users are now spoiled by seemingly unlimited bandwidth at home and at the office, these problems hinder the perceived usability of Wi-Fi Hotspots.
Wi-Fi connection is typically available within 200 feet of an access point. If a user is too far from the access point, his or her speed may drop or service may disappear altogether. Without new integration technology (like the Hotspot 2.0 initiatives mentioned in last week’s blog) users cannot achieve seamless handoff of wireless access from one access point to another.
The Open Garden service addresses a lot of the usability issues above. With Open Garden on their devices, users will be automatically connected to the fastest connection and most powerful signal without manual intervention. Once connected, devices are part of a self-healing mesh network that will find new connections if a specific path is dropped. And finally, devices can be chained together so even if you move out of range from a hotspot, as long as one device has 3G or 4G access via a mobile data plan, the other devices can use that connection to stay online.
We will discuss security issues that are being tackled to make Wi-Fi access in public secure and protected from malicious intent.
Hotspots use Wi-Fi technology and offer wireless broadband network services to mobile visitors through a wireless local area network (WLAN). These hotspots are found in coffee shops and various other public venues throughout the world.
Wi-Fi usage is expected to explode from 4 billion connections in 2010 to 120 billion by 2015. There are 800 million new Wi-Fi-enabled devices entering the mobile market each year. To accommodate this demand, the global number of Wi-Fi hotspots is also expected to triple by 2015 with some 1.2 million venues Wi-Fi ready. With such a crush of increased demand, the network operators are racing to build capacity, but can’t avoid the potential for ever-worsening network congestion.
The operators believe that one way to alleviate this congestion is to promote the interconnected use of Wi-Fi networks rather than limit a user to one subscriber-only network. Wireless providers are now beginning to work together to let users roam onto one another’s Wi-Fi hotspots so they do not need to rely on just one operator for hotspot coverage. There is a financial incentive for the operators as well. Once the technology is established and enabled, there may be Wi-Fi roaming charges just as there are mobile data roaming charges.
WFA is a trade association which promotes Wireless LAN technology. It imagines a new approach to public access Wi-Fi with Hotspot 2.0, also know as HS2 and Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint.
WBA promotes the Next Generation Hotspot (NGH). The aim of the NGH is to offer a public Wi-Fi network that is easier to use and more secure than current Wi-Fi hotspots.
Hotspot 2.0 (HS2) enables mobile devices to automatically join a Wi-Fi subscriber service whenever the user enters an HS2 area. It removes the common login portal that appears when a user attempts to access a hotspot.
HS2 is based on the IEEE 802.11u standard, which was developed to automate how mobile devices connect to available Wi-Fi networks.
The 802.11u standard includes a number of features designed to make the wireless connection completely automated, including:
The NGH is a complement to Hotspot 2.0. While HS2 makes registration and authentication seamless, NGH extends that connection to the operator’s backend systems. This has the benefit of allowing operators to take advantage of technologies developed for mobile data 3G and 4G networks such as:
While most of today’s discussions around these technologies are confined to network operators and their partners, these changes will affect the everyday usability and accessibility of Wi-Fi and broadband data coverage. As more and more public venues offer Wi-Fi for free or near-free and the poorest users have increasing access to mobile devices, the digital divide will continue to shrink.
As services such as Open Garden open up ad hoc wireless networks to consumers, it becomes important that the underlying concepts of the technology are understood by nontechnical audiences. Here is the first in a series of blog articles to talk about technologies that power Open Garden in a consumer friendly manner.
Remember how the movie Terminator 3 ends? Instead of a happy ending, the protagonist, John Connor, is unable to shut down Skynet, the evil AI because Skynet is not a single supercomputer, but a software that exists over a distributed network of millions of computers.
Mesh networking is like Skynet, except it can be used for the forces of good like more efficient routing of wireless bandwidth, or a robust communication network during a natural disaster.
It has these properties:
Robust: If one link becomes unusable, it does not incapacitate the entire system. It can also be selfhealing, such that the network can be programmed to automatically take up the slack when parts of it are down.
Scalable: As you add more nodes/devices, it becomes faster as you can optimize over a larger number of devices. Reduces network traffic problems.
Complex: Requires installation of networking “software” or hardware on each node or device.
Expensive: Can be expensive if there is hardware required to connect each link (e.g. I/O ports and cable).
Wired: One of the most important technologies to provide connectivity to the Internet is 802.11. It typically involves an operator to provide infrastructure support, namely access points connected by wire to a backbone. Providing wired infrastructure is very costly and takes months for carriers to set up.
Wireless: Wireless Mesh Networks on the other hand enable communication between infrastructure components without wires and cables. It also allows the dynamic addition and subtraction of nodes without any physical cable additions and removals. Wireless networks remove the “expensive” nature of mesh networks.
Full Mesh, which requires that every device have a dedicated pointtopoint link to every other device. If you have 6 devices you need connection from and to each device in the network. In this topology, some or all nodes may be a router and some or all nodes may be an end point. It’s rare to achieve a full interconnection like this with most networks.
Partial Mesh, on the other hand, only requires some nodes be connected to a source which can then supply the remaining nodes. Open Garden’s mesh network belongs to this category, where only one device is required to be connected to the Internet and from there, data can be efficiently transferred to many others.
Finally, there are two ways data can be sent through a mesh network: flooding or routing.
Routing sends data along a dedicated path, jumping from one node to node until it reaches its destination. In this scheme, any node can be a bottleneck or broken path, so there needs to be a mechanism for the connection to be maintained via a selfhealing protocol where broken links are repaired by substituting nodes.
Flooding involves distributing data from the source node to rest of the nodes in the network hierarchically. Unlike routing, it does not depend on every node to be alive to function, but it does have the potential to be inefficient as transmission of data from one node may not produce a duplicated or determinable output to the next.
Now that we’ve covered some basic facts about Mesh Networking, we will follow up with posts about next generation hotspot technologies, usability and security in the coming weeks. Let us know if you think these articles are helpful!
Here at D2D we cover a lot of ground from apps to small cells, from mobile ads to small cell backhaul. We know that our readers come from many different backgrounds and not all of our content is relevant to all our readers. So for the network- and equipment-heads out there thank you for reading this far, we now have something for you. And if you are a softwarrier stick around this may interest you to. We promise there is an app in here.
In the last two years carriers have made real progress in improving their network capacities in recent years, bottlenecks still exist. (Most Improved Award goes to AT&T in the Bay Area. Thank you, your work is appreciated.) Despite this, bottlenecks still exist. There are only so many places to install base stations and we mobile consumers are very greedy for more bandwidth. More. More….
Part of the solution to this will be small cells, but these are still a few years away from commercialization (see D2D #1 for more on this). So we were very interested to learn of privately-held Open Garden. They have revived the idea of “mesh networks”. This seems to be the “Back to the Future” issue of D2D as Mesh Networks are a concept that have been trolling around wireless for a long time, only to fade away as development proved difficult.
The idea of a mesh network, or more specifically an ad-hoc mesh network, is that mobile devices not only talk to a base station but also to each other. This allows devices with better access to the core Internet to serve as a bridge for other devices in the mesh. With current cellular architecture, the more phones in one area the weaker the connection for everyone as all these devices have to share bandwidth from a single base station. Think Fenway Park when the Yankees are playing – a crowded and hostile network. In theory, mesh networks offer improved capacity as the number of devices grow. Devices have more ways to share core access. This is especially true if the mesh can merge connections from multiple wireless carriers and Wi-Fi.
Part of the reason this idea has faded is that it is fiendishly hard to do. Devices have to keep track of many more connections and know who to share what with. Fortunately, smartphones are now reaching the point that they have the processing power to do all this.
Open Garden has taken advantage of this to develop a true mesh networking solution. They have figured out numerous ways to both detect and share Internet connectivity across pretty much any kind of radio you can think, and probably a few more. Their app is now available on Google Play where it is prominently featured. (We promised you an app in this article.) For all the network aficionados out there this is heady stuff.
This is more than tethering your tablet to your smartphone. Using Open Garden, you can build and share networks among family members, friends, and co-workers. It is not hard to envisage some interesting combinations here. To make up an example, tie Open Garden to social networks and let all your friends share Internet access when they are close to one of your connected devices. There are many more possibilities.
Of course, all of this carries some meaningful complexities. How do you ration access on a limited data plan? What role will the carriers play in all this? What is the best way to distribute the Open Garden software. As an early-stage start-up, Open Garden is not sharing all its magic just yet, but it is clear we are in early days of something that could prove very important.