The Serval project has begun raising funds for a device to assist smart phones in connecting without a cellular network.  The prototype can enable nearby Android phones to link up for calls, texts and file transfers without a cellular network.

The Serval project is appealing for assistance developing a router-like device that could make its approach more practical.  A crowd funding campaign is aiming to raise $300,000 to support development of the Mesh Extender, which helps the ad-hoc, localized networks Serval creates to be extended over greater distances.  Also, and this is the important bit, the device makes it possible for nearby phones to join a mesh network without being modified whatsoever to sidestep the default restrictions on Wi-Fi networking in Google’s mobile operating system.


The free app for Android phones, developed by Serval, has nearby phones link up to one another using Wi-Fi thus creating a “mesh” network in which every device can act as a stepping stone to help data travel between one device to another device.  Such networks could be very valuable in places with poor infrastructure, after a disaster, or maybe used covertly if there is government surveillance in place.  But a phone can’t make a Wi-Fi connection longer than about 100 meters with a clear line of sight and such a link can typically only reach an adjacent building in an urban area.  This is where the Mesh Extender comes into play; the new campaign is raising funds for a device that can make both local Wi-Fi links and links several kilometres long thanks to an additional radio that uses a part of a spectrum that is typically utilised by cordless phones and garage door openers.  When the Mesh Extender is enabled it can link nearby phones into a mesh network via Wi-Fi, and then connect those devices to any other devices linked to any other Mesh Extenders within range of its second radio.  The Mesh Extender also allows Android devices to join a Serval mesh network over Wi-Fi without being modified, or “rooted,” or to turn off default restrictions on that type of Wi-Fi networking.

The current Mesh Extender design can be legally used in the Canada, U.S.A., New Zealand and Australia.  Prototypes have been tested in places as varied as the Australian outback and Washington, D.C. and  this new campaign will fund development of a more refined version that could be sold online and for early units to be sent to humanitarian organisations for testing.

It sounds like a really great idea, but what do you think?

[Image via copilotco]