Submitted by humtechnet on

Internet in a suitcase

Original photo from NYT

This week the New York Times reported on a US State Department funded project nicknamed the "Internet in a suitcase" - a highly mobile wireless network kit that includes the software and hardware for setting up a mesh network in places where conventional means of communication are unavailable or compromised by repressive regimes.  Previous endeavors like the FabLab FabFi project, tested and deployed in Afghanistan and Kenya, have demonstrated the benefit of building wireless infrastructure for socio-economic development, but in the shadow of civil unrest and brutal oppression these kits are also a means of sidestepping or co-opting the control of communication.

We got a peek inside the kit put together at the Open Technology Initiative, and while it's no big mystery what's inside, you might still be wondering what kind of software and hardware you need to build your own freedom net.  Check the photo above for reference while we take a closer look inside...

1. Directional sector antenna - The base station antenna that gets your cellular network up and running.  This looks like the 900MHz airMAX model from Ubiquiti Networks.

2. Cellular WiFi router - Picks up the signal and creates a WiFi network.  Anyone have a guess as to exactly which model this is?

3. USB flash drives.  You don't see it in the picture, but there's a laptop involved with this setup, and flash drives are the best way to swap software when the network's not available.  Multiple drives make sharing software easy.  Speaking of're going to need to to bring some along.  Gigaom did a great write up of the essential software stack:

  • Serval Project - Enables communication over regular Android smartphones without the need for internet access.
  • Commotion - Software that would turn any mobile device, cell phone or router, into another node in a mesh network.
  • Tor - Using multiple encrypted nodes, Tor hides your network activity from prying eyes.
  • OpenBTS - Can turn existing GSM phones into VoIP devices when coupled with a Commotion network.
  • OpenGSM - Open source magic that allows GSM phones to make calls using cheap base stations over various cellular frequency bands.  Users should weight the pros and cons of potentially breaking government airwaves regulations before using OpenGSM.

4. CDs/DVDs - Blank or pre-burned, its a good idea to have more than one option for sharing data.

5. PicoStation outdoor wireless access point - Extends the mesh and provides access to the network.  This particular unit is the Ubiuquiti PicoStation M.  Want one? Ubiquiti Networks PICO2HP 2.4GHz 802.11bg High Power

6. Rugged wireless router - Another node in the mesh, another access point.  Post a comment if you can identify this model.

7. Cell phone / Smartphone - Once your software stack is up and running, these are your means of communication.  Kind of obvious, huh?

8. Outdoor wireless antenna - Four of them! These are the Qbiquiti NanoStation M, a pole mounted antenna that can send 150+ Mbps over 15 km.  Want one? Ubiquiti Networks NanoStation M2 2.4GHz 802.11n 2x2 MIMO

Well that's about it.  Of course you'll need a few laptops, maybe an OLPC for good measure.  And don't forget the suitcase! So you've seen what the US Gov is shelling out the big bucks for...what would you put inside?