Letter Re: The Serval Mesh Network

Mr. Rawles,
If you have not yet heard of the Serval Project, I would encourage you to check out the web site. This is an Australian based non-profit that is attempting to build the software and hardware for a mesh network that can be erected post-disaster. It is all open-source and there is even a free Serval app available at the Google App Store.

For those of you not familiar with the idea, mesh networks are self-contained networks that run off of the same protocols as the internet, using the same hardware, but are not necessarily linked to the actual World Wide Web (hence, no ‘off-switch’). Each item on the network, be it a laptop, desktop, android tablet device, or android smart phone would be connected to each other, using the app or other software, giving each user the ability to place a phone call, send a text or image, etc. with any other entity on the mesh network. Literally, two devices can connect to each other with no other technology required. There are other apps similar to this, such as Open Garden, but Serval looks to be entirely self-contained.

One issue with android phones is the range (however, there seems to be a work around that adds range to the phones if they are rooted). The people at Serval are attempting to remedy this by designing and building an ‘extender’ that they claim will push the maximum range to kilometers. It is called a Serval Extender, and while it is not available yet, this is an open source movement that many people are working on, and it is only a few months along in its development. Therefore, I expect to see several items available to enhance this concept on the internet soon, either for sale or the instructions as a free download (It would be similar to the Raspberry Pi or Arduino concept, which is open source hardware that is now widely available with tons of resources on the internet for free).

Keep in mind, the original intent was for post-disaster networks to spring up with ease. The designer was inspired by the Haitian earthquake. He realized that once the cell network went down, there were potentially hundreds or thousands of smartphones that could be used to communicate which instantly became useless. He conceived Serval as an app that could go on each phone, and you could immediately be part of a this new network.

Assuming the technology survives an EMP a group could deploy this network and use existing phones, tablets, computers, and their chargers for commo gear. You even keep the same phone number! The messages are sent encrypted. Unless the looter bad guys have Serval on their phones, you could probably consider the network private. I doubt any other device would be able to translate the signal, although it would be pretty easy to detect. This, in my opinion, is more advantageous than GMRS or CB because of the ability to send texts and images. The power requirements for these would be negligible, low in fact. One small PV panel could run the extender, one more to charge the devices, or just use hand cranks.

I think this would create an interesting dialogue on SurvivalBlog.com, and I hope others look into this. I look forward to the responses! – Dan in Florida