There were many successes this year at AgoraFest, but I wanted to share one in particular. As many of you know, our venue (Villa Maria Retreat & Conference Center) is located in an unincorporated township near the Mississippi River at Lake Pepin, and is in a relatively unpopulated area of Minnesota. While there is internet access in portions of the main hall, most of our activities take place about a quarter mile from there in an area of cabins and tent camping mostly surrounded by woods. Cellular reception is sketchy or nonexistent in the back woods, and the internet is wishful thinking. Our event tends to rely heavily on data access for vendors and presenters, so last winter we began plans to install a temporary wireless mesh network for AgoraFest.
It took a small team about 5 hours to configure and install 8 radios, including one long point-to-point connection using 2 radios with directional antennas, but the results were outstanding! Imagine standing in the middle of a meadow surrounded by dense woods and enjoying 5 bar wi-fi internet access! We even had some fun customizing the network with access points named Samuel Edward Konkin III, Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, and of course Jack Shimek ;). The staff at Villa Maria was so impressed with what we accomplished that they want to install their own permanent mesh network.
Next year we hope to enhance the mesh network with a few more radios and hopefully a couple that will run on solar power, more local applications to enhance its usefulness and decrease the load on the gateway, and maybe even incorporating some live streaming of some sessions. We’ll keep you informed as we continue to improve this resource.
Besides solving the internet problem at AgoraFest, there are other important reasons to adopt wireless mesh networking for your neighborhood, local event, or business. In an era of total surveillance mesh networks can assist you in maintaining privacy and security, as well as help you access data and communicate cost effectively.
We used open source software (Commotion) and inexpensive radios (Ubiquiti) as the main building blocks of the network. You can read more about the mesh software we used at commotionwireless.net.