Several Australian telecommunications researchers have started taking steps to build a disaster-proof mobile network and are looking for more funding to expand their cause.
They developed free software, called The Serval Mesh, which enables Android phones to send and receive information using built-in Wi-Fi without depending on established cellular networks. Co-founder Paul Gardner Stephen, who is part of the nonprofit Serval Project based in Australia, decided to develop the software after grappling with Haiti's infrastructure failures in the wake of the country's 2010 earthquake.
The founders have also created a "mesh extender" device that substantially increases the Wi-Fi range, currently at 100 meters, between phones on the new network. They launched a fundraising page earlier this month to help turn the prototype of the device into a product that can be distributed to consumers.
The software could enhance the Internet's capabilities not only for people in disaster zones, but also for those in war zones and in developing countries, where the cost of mobile telecommunication is often prohibitive.
“You could have someone taking pictures and video at a protest and sharing them immediately to the mesh,” Gardner-Stephen told MIT Technology Review. “Even if that person’s phone is seized, the footage has already made it to 10 other phones in the area, and then to hundreds or thousands more.”