ISO: WiFi Mesh Networking User Support System

   
   
   
   
   
olpc wireless mesh view
OLPC wireless mesh view
One Laptop Per Child is making great strides with their implementation of the emerging 802.11s standard on Marvell wireless firmware. Walter Bender says:
Polychronis Ypodimatopoulos set up a mesh demo where each laptop takes a picture at random times and tries to send it over to all other nodes in the mesh network. He has a web page where the aggregate data are displayed, based upon the number of hops between nodes. You can click on the pictures and see what the respective direct neighbors and nodes further than one hop are for the next node
Now that sounds damn cool, eh? That sounds like the OLPC XO mesh network "just works" and there will be full out-of-the-box mesh functionality on the Children's Machine XO.

But if you follow the netwoking listserv you can get a whole other impression of the XO computer. There, firmware and software bugs are exposed and fixed on a daily basis, with one example that suggests a larger issue. None other than Vint Cerf is having trouble getting his mesh network up and running:

olpc wireless mesh view
Here's the mesh problem...
I have an OLPC at home, using an unprotected apple express that is slaved to an apple base station, I can see my home network but double clicking on the icon for this apple express unit does NOT result in network connectivity. Do I need to invoke some kind of unix CLI mantra to actually get this system to link to the apple express?
Now if one of the founding fathers of the Internet needs OLPC tech support to run a XO WiFi mesh, how will children, teachers, countries be able to install and maintain wireless WiFi mesh networks in their schools and homes?

Will OLPC become a global tier 2 customer support center no matter how easy the mesh becomes to operate? Or will there need to be a strong WiFi mesh networking user support system in each county? Another social side of mesh. If so, doesn't that sound like the cornerstone of an implementation plan?

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7 Comments

There are probably still many bugs to squash. At the moment this looks not like a critical problem since there are still mainly developers using machines. They speak English, know where to go with bugs and can deliver useful bug reports which helps their correction.

However, what happens when bugs keep popping up after launching millions of XO's. Their users will probably not even recognize a bug in all cases, then they will not necessarily know where to go with it (will their teacher know?) and will probably not be able to send useful bug reports. What would the developers do with reports in e.g. Arabian language?
There needs to be logistic precautions for those cases which should be part of a larger implementation plan also dealing with maintenance, spare part logistics, training, hot line etc.

Wayan wrote:
"But if you follow the newtoking listserv you can get a whole other impression of the XO computer."

Please spell check before posting, Mr Editor. (it is link text though so I'll let this one slide).

I've fixed the typo, and yet I've been told that I may have committed a greater error: a lack of clarity in my post.

I am not dissing the skills or the efforts of the OLPC developers to come out with amazing mesh technology or make it "just work" to the best of their abilities.

What I am pointing out is that there will be thousands if not millions of tech support requests, from all kinds of people and regardless of skill set when the OLPC deploys.

With the current OLPC leadership talk of "we don't need to train anyone on local maintenance, the children will fix it" I see utter chaos as all those requests flood OLPC HQ and there is Humpty Dumpty on a million unit scale: http://www.olpcnews.com/implementation/maintenance/humpty_dumpty_million.html

The post was meant to garner a realization within OLPC that there needs to be plans, guidance to develop a local mesh networking support system in each country. Another aspect to an in-country maintenance plan.

Wayan,

I think you should interpret the OLPC project's aim as fairly simple: The Mesh should work out-of-the-box and almost flawlessly. Or else it has failed.

Help-desks are out of the questions. So, field training on the mesh network is just as usefull as on repairing the screen. It either works or the laptop has to be returned to a qualified technician. And that should be avoided at all cost.

Winter

Somebody knowledgeable, caring and in the vicinity will be watching. Where there is a will, there is a way.
The OLPC is so important for education and so vital for the open-source community to succeed, that it will listen to exchanges of the mesh networks. The community members will act like sentinels who will not let the project flop, since we have a vested interest in it. The same would not be true for the Intel Classmate, though, much on the contrary.
The OLPC will be sustained technically by the FOSS community; that is how its market share will grow by leaps and bounds.

Regarding the social side of meshing, where there is the danger that all nodes might be kept down so the connectivity will be lost, I, from the standpoint of one poor child in the past, predict that the networking will be more important than candy in those children's lives.

I remember, for instance, that when my father "went downtown" it was an event in the entire family, because it meant that he would go somewhere distant and unknown and bring home precious things that we did not have nearby, such as candies, toys, magazines etc. So, I kept imagining what downtown looked like. Later, when I had a radio receiver with poor access to short waves, I kept exploring that band for all sorts of noises and weak speech in unknown languages, just out of curiosity, without losing interest despite the difficulty.

Now, if I had an OLPC whereby I was told that I could access someone from another town I never visited, I would be cranking up mine into the night in order to meet someone on the net, and so would be other children. It would be more of a case of information glut than lack of nodes to keep the network up. Besides, I think solar panels and community batteries will be set up so the children will not have to do too much cranking. Or family members will take turns on the cord-pulling occupation to be able to communicate with friends and family through the OLPC instead of having to depend on a cybercafe downtown.

The people who are pessimist in this regard forgot how to be a child, and do not understand how communication is important to everyone who have been restricted. Just look at how cellphones are so pervasive. Chances are the child's father will do business with the OLPC!

On Tuesday (April 1) I'll be doing a 30,000 mile charity ride through north America on a Vespa GTS 250. A "very popular PC publication" gave me an OLPC to use throughout the trip in order to test its usefulness and ability(ies). But I've taken it to a Penera Bread to test the Wi-Fi ability and I can't browse the web. It shows "mesh networks" and the Panera wi-fi, but I can't browse the web.

Not being all that familiar with the inner-workings/behind the scenes workings of a computer (let alone an OLPC), I havent any idea how to rectify this.

Can someone PLEASE email me and give me an "Idiots Guide" version of how to fix this?

CHEERS!

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