[Make-wifi-fast] Osijek, Otvorena Mreža, MeshPoint

Valent Turkovic valent at otvorenamreza.org
Mon Apr 30 06:03:19 EDT 2018


On Sun, Apr 29, 2018 at 11:47 PM, Juliusz Chroboczek <jch at irif.fr> wrote:
> Hi,
> I've just spent four days in Osijek, a small city in the East of Croatia,
> invited by Valent Turković (in copy of this mail).  It was an interesting
> stay.

Juliusz, it was a blast having you here! I really enjoyed meeting you
and discussions we had were very, very interesting.
You are welcome back to visit anytime, your friends are also welcome,
and your friends of friends are also welcome :)

> For those of you who are not up to scratch in European Geography, the part
> of Croatia that everyone knows about is the west, on the Adriatic gulfn.
> But Croatia also has an inland part, in the east, which is flat and
> agricultural.  The region is known as Slavonia (no relation to either
> Slovenia or Slovakia), and the main city is Osijek (pronounced "Osiek");
> the other well-known town there is Vukovar.
> Valent is the founder (co-founder?) of three projects:
> 1. Osijek Wireless, a non-profit that puts open access points all over the
>    place, both in fixed locations and to support events;
> 2. Otvorena Mreža (Open Network), an informal project that develops
>    a number of technologies including a free hardware outdoor router
>    running Babel, known as MeshPoint; Otvorena Mreža notably provided
>    Internet access to a Syrian refugee camp in Beli Monastir back in 2015;
> 3. Crisis Innovation Lab, a limited responsibility company (for profit)
>    that aims to market an outdoor router for crisis situations.
> The Otvorena Mreža technology stack uses a number of familiar open-source
> technologies, notably Babel for meshing the routers when the need arises.

Thank you for this overview. Otvorena mreža and Wlan Slovenia have
been working together for over 7 years, and we have made great
progress together. You can check out our live node map here [1]. We
are now in the process of setting up our own nodewatcher server that
will run on https://nodes.otvorenamreza.org, and we already have a
separate vpn gateway for our part of the network.
Idea is to have duplicate and redundant systems so if any part of Wlan
Slovenia network has some issues they can fall back to using our
infrastructure, and vice-versa.

> Valent is unfortunately not the best at communicating about his
> activities, and the only website I could find in English is about the
> MeshPoint crisis router.  It runs Babel ;-)
>   https://meshpoint.me/
> -- Juliusz

Yes, this is so true. I didn't understand the importance of
communicating vision and mission up until few months ago... I always
thought that you really use terms like "vision" and "mission" when you
wan't to sound smart or when you want to take money from someone :)

I wrongly thought that "real engineers" don't need to communicate
their vision, they just have an idea and go work on it. But without a
way to communicate your idea to others you are then left alone to work
on your idea and if idea is actually big and important enough there is
actually very small chance that you can do it on your own.

Best place we have documented our work so far is on Hackaday prize
competition blogs [2] from last year's competition. But we have gone
quite far from that since then.

There a number of projects (big and small) and corporations (mostly
huge ones) that are trying to address the issue of digital divide and
how to connect next 5 billion people to the Internet. If you have been
keeping an eye on what and how they are doing it you have seen them
failing much more than getting something even off the ground, let
alone making it successful.

I was asking my self this; if even the biggest corporations, with
almost unlimited resources, with probably some of smartest people on
the planet, best scientists and awesome engineers then is it possible
that a small group of open source geeks, volunteers with almost no
budget can "compete" with them?

My answer is yes. Not only can we "compete" but we can show them how
this can actually be done. I see two mayor flaws in approaches so far.

1. What most big corporations say they do and what they are actually
doing is usually not the same. Yes, they wan't to connect next 5
billion people, but all of them want to build some kind of wallgarden
and not to connect people in the most general way possible. This goes
agings internet being more open, and it is closing it down, making it
almost a privately owned network (with corporations as gatekeepers)
instead of a great public good.

2. All commercial backed entities want to build an infrastructure what
will be used by next 5 billion people. They see anyone connecting to
the network not as a valuable contributor but only as a user. Also
building infrastructure doesn't scale, or at least it scales very,
very poorly - especially in developing countries.

I have seen examples and I know there is a better way to do it. It is
definitely not to build an infrastructure, because we would need
billions and billions of euros/dollars...

What we need to build are tools that will enable next 5 billion people
to connect themselves.

Building tools isn't as sexy or glamorous as building something like
infrastructure that you can show of to others, but it is definitely
only was I see we can connect whole world. But also building only
tools is not enough.

So the full answer is we need to do both.

We need to build tools and we need to build infrastructure. But the
main difference is in out approach. We don't build infrastructure with
top to down approach because that doesn't scale, but we build
infrastructure from bottom up. This is only way we can scale things
and actually connect next 5 billion people.

But building infrastructure and tools is also not enough. We also need
to build our own open source and open hardware wifi routers.

We can't use off the shelf devices because most of them are getting
more and more closed, they are also change too often so you can't plan
anything with them. Most consumer devices change every few months, so
as soon as they are released they aren't supported in OpenWrt, and few
months later when you get support for them they are already replaced
by a different model or revision.

As much as doing all of this seams crazy, this is exactly what my team
and I have been doing for last 3 years. And I believe in this so much
that I have also stared a social entrepreneurship company.

Reason for starting a company was motivated by earning a profit, but
to show that I'm 100% serious and dedicated to this idea. I have put
my money where my mouth is, so all of our (my wife and mine) money is
used to make this happen. We believe we have a good business plan and
I'm sure we will be self-sustainable and be able to support this idea
from profits that we gather., but for now is company if far from being
profitable. Juliusz can tell you that we drive over 25 year old car :)
But all our team members get payed for their contributions, to be
precise, all except my wife Mili and me.

We are trying to get some EU funding and collect some grants, but I'm
very careful about that. Because most important to us is to have a
self-sustainable business model which would mean that we would stay
independent. Also if we would focus only on getting "free money" from
grants then we would have would to find new source of income once we
deplete current one...

Getting "free money" could become a honey trap, because some people
and projects that go this route fail after few years. They become very
good at getting free money that they just like it much more (or
overhead is too much) than doing real work, so projects actually stop
doing any real work. We are very conscious of this. So we are only
asking for enough money to help us accelerate our development (hire
few full time people) but we will never ask for so much money that we
feel "safe". I have learned that in order to produce good results you
have to have correct incentives setup.

And we have seen also how many open source and open hardware projects
fail because enthusiasm wears our after a few years, also life happens
- people get married, get children, and of course then priorities
change. You have to provide for your family and first that goes out of
the picture are hobbies and open source projects that you work on.

This is why I started a company, to have enough money to pay for
developers to work on open source projects so that they can bring food
to their families.

This is far too long email, but please let's continue this discussion.


[1] https://nodes.wlan-si.net/map/
[2] https://hackaday.io/project/10453-meshpoint-wifi-router-for-humanitarian-crisis

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