Firmware is a combination of software and hardware. Its software is programmed into a read-only memory which means it does not get erased when its device is powered off. Computer chips that have data or programs recorded on them are firmware. These chips commonly include the following: ROMs (read-only memory); PROMs (programmable read-only memory), and EPROMs (erasable programmable read-only memory). Firmware in PROM or EPROM is designed to be updated if necessary through a software update. It is here where firmware can be changed that that door opened exciting possibility that is mesh networking.
OpenWRT is firmware that is used to route wireless traffic through mesh networking. It was initially released in 2004. As an open source operating system, OpenWrt’s code has been forked into other projects such as FON and CeroWrt.
The Better Approach To Mobile Adhoc Networking (B.A.T.M.A.N.) is a routing protocol which is under development by the “Freifunk”-Community in Germany and is intended to replace an older wireless protocol – the OLSR or Optimized Link State Routing Protocol. OLSR predates the 802.11 standard of wireless communication.
B.A.T.M.A.N.’s crucial point is the decentralization of the knowledge about the best route through the network so that no single node has all the data. It was initially released in 2007.
Byzantium is a linux distribution that is described by it’s Washington DC-based developers as a “research and development effort to make it possible to rapidly and reliably deploy an ad-hoc wireless mesh network.” It was developed in the wake of the Arab Spring after the Egyptian government effectively shut down the country’s internet connection. It was also developed with disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Sandy in mind, with the goal of emergency preparedness in responding to disasters. Unlike most mesh implementations, a Byzantium Mesh requires no specialized equipment that might be difficult to get during an emergency, just an x86 computer with at least one 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless interface card. See this great video report on DC-based Byzantium developers.
Commotion Wireless was released globally in March 2013 by the Open Technology Institute, a Washington DC-based think and tech-tank whose roots trace back to Champaign Urbana and the wireless community network that existed here. Commotion has been described as the “internet in a suitcase”. It is an open source wireless mesh network that has received major funding from the federal government. It was first deployed in Detroit in cooperation with the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition. See the 51:30 mark in the following video for a brief interview with Sascha Meinrath, former Champaign Urbana Community Wireless Network organizer, talk about Commotion.