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Boffins squeeze a mesh onto Android handsets

Mobile phone, or network relay?

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Australian researchers have ported Wi-Fi mesh-networking onto the Android platform, potentially turning any Android handset into a relay able to extend network coverage into disaster areas.

The newly-demonstrated project is called Serval, after a kind of cat, and enables a standard Android handset to make voice calls (VoIP), which are relayed though one or more handsets back to the cellular network: it's not a new idea, but doing it with standard handsets makes it a great deal more practical.

The TETRA phone system, used by emergency services across Europe, is supposed to be able to do the same thing – every TETRA handset should be able to operate as a relay. In fact the functionality is limited to vehicle-mounted radios, but still useful to those called upon to attend remote regions without time to prepare something more suitable.

In Sweden TerraNet has spent the last few years trying to do much the same thing – with the laudable aim of bringing connectivity to the third world through spontaneous meshing at 2.4GHz, but with limited success.

More recently, we have Peep Wireless, which got loads of press a few weeks back and is now busy raising money on the back of promises to make every phone a relay using (according to its website) the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Without bothering to provide any details of how it's going to work this magic of course.

Unlike the chaps in Oz, who first demonstrated a working relay last year, and now have one running on Android. Admittedly the quality is suited to emergency situations, where no better alternative is available, but using standard kit makes the whole thing much, much, cheaper, and the group's commitment to providing the eventual software for free (and open sourced) could see mesh voice in all sorts of places. ®

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