Monster Mesh: Decentralized Wireless Broadband
By Kevin Werbach, Mon Jan 21 00:00:00 GMT 2002

Just when you thought the peer-to-peer (P2P) craze was over, a new application for P2P architectures is emerging.


So-called meshed wireless systems are poised to attack the seemingly intractable problem of last-mile broadband connectivity.

First, some definitions. Unlike traditional arrangements such as client-server, P2P networks use direct connections between autonomous nodes at the edges. Data flows from one user to another, rather than through a central server. The most famous P2P application is Napster. Instead of transferring files from a master repository down to individual users, Napster allows those users to communicate and share files between each other's hard drives. Other P2P applications offer decentralized collaboration, distributed content delivery for large media files, and cheap computing power for complex calculations by dividing problems among thousands of inexpensive machines.

The P2P structure makes it easy to exchange music in violation of copyright restrictions, which is why the recording industry forced Napster to shut down through legal action. However, the P2P approach has unrelated benefits. A P2P network doesn't depend on a central authority to manage connections and store necessary data. It grows with each new node. Those nodes gain from the connection to a large network, but the network gains as well from what each node brings to the collective. There are no single points of failure, and no requirements that a complete core network be built before the users at the edges can connect.

As we postulated a year ago (see Kevin Werbach is the Editor of Release 1.0, an influential monthly report that covers the converging worlds of technology, communications and the Internet. He also co-organizes the annual PC Forum and High Tech Forum conferences for technology industry executives.

Kevin and Esther Dyson also publish a free email newsletter, "The conversation continues," where they periodically distribute analysis, pointers to interesting Websites, and reader comments. Sign up at http://www.edventure.com/conversation.