2017: Meta Mesh's Year of Progress

January 4, 2017

2016 was a good year for Meta Mesh Wireless Communities. We transitioned from using Ubiquiti products to working with a manufacturer directly in order to obtain parts for our custom-built outdoor-ready routers. We are halfway finished with both Braddock and the Hill District networks. And we are in talks with about a dozen different institutions to propel PittMesh forward in 2017. 


But we recognize that we have not done the best job of informing our community about what we're up to and how much we're accomplishing. This is mainly due to the changeable nature of our work. One week we're gearing up for a massive installation in a new neighborhood only to find out the next week that the project champion lost his lease, lost his funding source, and is moving to another state. We didn't want to over promise projects- but I think we were too conservative in announcing what we were up to. You deserve to know more about our projects- even if they don't come to fruition sometimes.


So, in 2017 we will be sending out monthly updates and posting them on this blog. This is the first of these posts and they will recur monthly on the the first of the month. Updates will come in two varieties. We will post short updates for developing and continuing projects in the form of a narrative. We'll describe what happened in the last month for a particular project. Some of this news will lead to great things. Some of it will likely drop off but we'll explain why that happened. These narratives are what we call "qualitative" progress and while they are helpful, numbers can describe in more concrete terms what stories cannot. Therefore, we will also be quantifying and graphing a few key indicators of our success. Currently we're in the process of getting some of these final numbers and so this month we will only describe what we're going to show you starting next month. You can find these indicators in the "graphs" section below. So without further ado here is 2017's first "State of the Mesh" update.


State of the Mesh: January 2017


PittMesh Expansions




Meta Mesh has started a conversation with a group of developers in the Beechview neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Beechview has a tiny business district that could benefit from having a public WiFi network. We will be holding meetings this month with these developers to see if a PittMesh network would be a useful and viable solution for public WiFi along Broadway Avenue.



One of the many small industrial towns along the Allegheny River, Sharpsburg has a long and meandering main street ripe for public WiFi. A group from Sharpsburg has contacted Meta Mesh to explore adding a PittMesh network to this riverside neighborhood just North-East of Downtown. With a commanding view of the river valley and surrounded by high points, Sharpsburg would be an ideal location to have a street-level WiFi network with long-distance links to other neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area.



In August, Meta Mesh presented the idea of building a Public WiFi network at a community meeting we were invited to. With 60 residents in attendance, this small community saw an opportunity to reinvent itself and make a name as a new and happening area just outside of the built-up North Shore neighborhood next door. Talks are ongoing with neighborhood groups and a new business district organization.



A few well-connected members of Adam Longwill's alma mater are working with Meta Mesh to discern how more connectivity could benefit this school district's shrinking student population that unfortunately places far down the list of standardized testing performance in the State. More connectivity allows for easier access to information needed for studying, teaching resources, and could lead to higher homework completion rates which could, in turn, improve those testing scores.



Meta Mesh has been working with a non-profit in (Billy Joel) Allentown throughout 2016 in an attempt to bring our inexpensive routers to this distant town. Multiple grant applications have been submitted and we are awaiting word of successful funding to move forward, bringing connectivity to a portion of their inner city that needs affordable connectivity.



Thanks to the tireless work of the Hill CDC and with assistance from the Hill House, Meta Mesh taught 6 classes, led 5 community installations, and has installed 9 nodes in the Hill District in 2016 thanks to a grant from Neighborhood Allies. The Hill will see the first roll out of the Community Hub Application (C-Hub) in 2017 that will act as a community message board and is expected to be PittMesh's first "killer app." A tenth installation is scheduled for early January at the Federal Credit Union on Centre Avenue.



Now 3/4 complete, Braddock only needs a few more locations to finish the 20-node project. Braddock will receive the first all-in-one solar-powered units once the weather begins cooperating with us! Meta Mesh has successfully "lit up" about half of the 1 mile stretch of Braddock Avenue and looks forward to completing installations in the Spring of 2017.



We can't tell you much about this one. But for the last 6 months Meta Mesh has been in negotiations to connect a massive amount of Internet bandwidth with thousands of people in an underserved community in the Pittsburgh area. Recently, significant hurdles have been cleared to make this a reality. Meta Mesh will have more news on this project in the Spring once final approvals are in place and funding has been acquired. This project, once complete, will change PittMesh from being a smattering routers that forms a community network to something bigger, more sustainable, and will change the way people think about public connectivity around the United States.


Project Developments




Funded by Neighborhood Allies as part of the Hill District build-out, Community Hub or C-Hub will be a splash page that lives on routers in the Hill District (to start) and will be a way for local non-profits, government agencies, community groups, and social/civic organizations to notify the public of upcoming events, notify them of important neighborhood news, and galvanize residents to work together to make their community a better place to live. Jim Keener, a long time friend and volunteer with Meta Mesh, has been hard at work developing this service for a few months now and a working prototype is just around the corner. We expect this technology to be deployed by the Summer. Community organizations and leaders within the Hill District will be able to obtain the specialized posting application that will allow them to notify anyone connecting to the PittMesh WiFi in the Hill of their important information.



Jacob Driggs and Justin Goetz have been slaving away on a project for about 3 months now that will work in conjunction with Community Hub and will allow PittMesh to begin to have a scalable, decentralized computer network that lives on the mesh network itself. PiNet is a constellation of Raspberry Pi's situated at strategic locations throughout PittMesh that will enable a kind of redundant, distributed computing that typically only exists in data centers. We are basically turning PittMesh into a distributed data center capable of hosting services throughout the mesh that make the network useful even when there is no Internet access. We will be writing a blog post on this in the near future as the work for this is nearly complete and a date will be set later this month for on-network testing.



Currently, Meta Mesh uses the GL-iNet AR150, a single-radio device that has limited range and limited throughput compared to dual-band, multi-radio monstrosities on big box store shelves. While our devices, rebranded as the AP150, work well for a community WiFi network they could be improved. Meta Mesh is developing a new version of the AP150 that will be called the AP300. This new device will be twice as fast, have increased usage range, penetrate walls better, and will include a battery in its case that will allow up to 12 hours of power in the event of an outage. When we started Pittmesh, we recognized the importance of an off-the-grid solution and we are now finally building a piece of hardware that can accomplish this at a price that individuals and community organizations can afford. Stay tuned for developments on this novel hardware you can't buy anywhere else.



PittMesh.net is a very static site. We're planning on renovating it. In 2016 we began collecting SNMP data from our PittMesh routers. But that data should be shared with the world! We plan on adding key pieces of usage data for all nodes Meta Mesh has access to throughout the network in 2017. Bandwidth usage, number of connected users, CPU usage, and layer 2 connection speeds are among the variety of data we plan to make public very soon.



We need to redo our website, changing it from a technical site to one that describes more of what we do and less of how we do it. We need to tell a story instead of show how our PittMesh network is assembled. We need to present a narrative and describe how we turn WiFi into community improvement. We will be discussing these changes with a graphic/web designer this month and look forward to the changes to our website in early 2017.



Our in-person classes have been successful. We have trained over one hundred people in the past two years at dozens of classes and workshops. But we want to make these lessons more digestible, higher quality, and done in a more controlled environment. Starting in January, Adam Longwill will be recording small segments of the classes we have presented in the past in Allentown, Braddock, and the Hill District and posting them on Youtube. We will pair these videos with Patreon, an online, recurring fundraising tool to bring in income from our followers and supporters without running those fundraising campaigns people dread hearing about. 


Fundraising News


Meta Mesh is in the running for an up to $300,000 reward through the Forbes Fund! You can check out our application to fund the PittMesh network at www.http://www.upprize.org/ideas/26. We will be presenting a pitch to the judges for our project in late January.




We will be setting up multiple crowdfunding efforts in the next few months for the neighborhoods that want to have networks and classes over the summer.  Instead of waiting 6-12 months for grants to come through, we're going to raise money directly from the communities that want to see public WiFi along their main street. This will allow us to be more nimble in our implementations around Pittsburgh this year.



We recently had a discussion with a potential funding source who we cannot disclose. We requested that this source provide us with a five digit amount of dollar bills after describing, at length, our efforts to bridge the Digital Divide. We will be following up with this potential funder with a revised budget including their money for 2017. These funds will allow us to be more sustainable and allow us to develop our novel approach to community-networking.


Success Indicators



Starting in February we will have a graph that shows the number of times a DHCP lease was issued from each router on the PittMesh network. The number that is reported will simply reflect the number of times devices connected to the PittMesh network and thus are a reflection of the usage of the network as a whole. We will not be able to discern whether a device connects multiple times as the data required to accomplish this would be, in our opinion, too close to actual device tracking on the network. At the end of each month we will tally the total connections and graph them. We expect to see growth each month-- especially in the summer when the weather is better and people begin using devices on in more public spaces.



At the time of this post, PittMesh has 57 locations and roughly 100 routers deployed. We will track how many installations are performed each month and how many routers are added as well.



It is important to know how many people we reach with our primary communication tool: our mailing lists. If you would like to subscribe to a list, please sign up at http://www.metamesh.org/mailing-lists. Currently we have 197 subscribers.



How many classes have we taught? How many times have our videos been viewed? And how many Patreon patrons has that earned us? We'll keep track of all our videos, views, and patrons on a single graph that will grow each month.



We teach classes in real life and we plan on running our classes starting later this month as well as doing our antenna building workshops. These classes use novel technologies and we explain technical ideas in ways that anyone can understand! In this graph we will show how many people attended our classes and how many people viewed the class online during our livestreams.


How you can help Meta Mesh this month


Below is a list of things we could REALLY use this month. If you are able, please donate one or more of the following items to:


Meta Mesh

744 East Warrington Avenue 

Pittsburgh, PA 15210!







Thank you from all of us at Meta Mesh! We'll see you next month!




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