The Origin of the Mesh Potato

The Mesh Potato is a concept developed at the Village Telco workshop (June 16-20, 2008) at the Shuttleworth Foundation. The objective of the workshop was to try to develop a prototype of the Village Telco as well as to develop the business model. The discussion around the business model led to an interesting exploration of what are the critical scale-up costs for a Village Telco. Two key factors emerged 1) power and 2) handsets.

Handsets prove to be a particular challenge for a couple of reasons. An initial assumption for the Village Telco was that low-cost VOIP handsets would probably be the most viable, convenient way of delivering telephones to customers. While the cost of VOIP phones appear to be steadily descreasing and the convenience of a handheld, battery powered device is very attractive, the small antenna is a signficant problem for a Village Telco. Even when you have access points that cover up to a two kilometre radius, wireless VOIP phones would need to be no more than 100 metres away for a reliable connection. This significantly drives up the number of wireless access points that would be required to cover a given area, signficantly driving up the overall startup cost.

In order to keep the number of access points down, the antenna for each user’s phone would have to be stronger. Another possibility would be to use a small mesh device like the Open Mesh AP and connect a SIP phone to the AP. This would solve the antenna problem and also increase the coverage area as each phone would also be a mesh node. Unfortunately this is still a comparatively expensive option.

As we were debating the options, Rael Lissoos grabbed an ATA (Analog Telephone Adaptor) and an OpenMesh AP and held them together and said, what we need is these two devices in one. And thus the idea for a Mesh Potato was born. The name Mesh Potato came from combining Mesh with POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) and ATA. Patata is Spanish for potato and Alberto Escudero-Pascual made the link…. The Mesh Potato…. a Mesh enabled WiFi device with an RJ11 port to connect an inexpensive regular phone and an RJ45 to connect any IP device.

The device would be based on the Atheros chipset used by Meraki and OpenMesh and would run OpenWRT and BATMAN. Asterisk would deliver the telephony function. Designed with a weatherproof housing, this device could be attached to the outside of a house or would even work inside if need be. Pre-configured, it would be plug and play for a new Village Telco client.

Now, had Open Hardware maverick, David Rowe, not been at the workshop, this might have been idle speculation on a “love-to-see” technology. As it turned out, David said “I could do that….”. I don’t think we all took him completely seriously at first but as the conversation ensued, it appears that bringing together the right designers, developers, and manufacturers was eminently possible. The more we discussed it, the more excited we all became that we might be able to drive our own hardware design in stead of depending on the luck of the market to come up with technology that could be appropriated for developing countries.

So, we are building it. The Shuttleworth Foundation is backing the initial development of the hardware design and firmware development.  We are currently testing prototypes and expect to have a full production version by Q1 2010.

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14 Responses to «The Origin of the Mesh Potato»

  1. July 01, 2008 at 5:16 pm, Village Telco Workshop | Many Possibilities said:
    [...] there but as it turned out we brainstormed the existence of a device which we decided to call a Mesh Potato which would combine the functionality of an ATA and a mesh AP, and would be low-power, Open Source, [...]

  2. July 01, 2008 at 5:17 pm, Village Telco Workshop at Village Telco said:
    [...] The Mesh Potato « The Origin of the Mesh Potato [...]

  3. December 15, 2008 at 4:20 am, horst said:
    sorry, not only a new *hard*-set + approp. *soft* is nessesary, but a multi-stage/funtional-structure to distribute bandwith to/fro users and maintaine that potato-cloud. this will not be done on convents, and has rarely been done in real-life-environments, and will not been done, as long there are new enthusiastic *solutions*, but no existing *problems*. why not, is not yet discovered, including reasons, why this is not seen as problem. offlinehorst

  4. February 02, 2009 at 1:15 am, David said:
    Please visit for info about spanish open-source mesh network provider.

  5. May 10, 2009 at 5:48 pm, william said:
    Re: for info about spanish open-source mesh network provider. Do you have an English translation??

  6. May 15, 2010 at 12:33 pm, Bernd said:
    @William you can use google translate: Well, this is more the high "Quality European Version" And for my quick look, not Open Source? I would like to know, if i can buy somewhere the MP, to test it? I was thinking about to build a mesh network, but you guys did it already! Here is a overview from the telcos: Best regards, Bernd

    • May 16, 2010 at 10:07 pm, Steve said:
      Hi Bernd, We are beta-testing a limited number of the Mesh Potatoes at the moment. You're best bet is to hang on until July when the commercial Mesh Potatoes will be available. Stay tuned to this site for an announcement. Cheers... Steve

  7. September 27, 2011 at 4:48 pm, Scaling Impact By Giving Stuff Away | Roshan Paul said:
    [...] Read more about the Mesh Potato project. [...]

  8. September 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm, Scaling Social Impact by Giving Away Value | TechChange | The Institute for Technology and Social Change said:
    [...] Read more about the Mesh Potato project. [...]

  9. December 27, 2011 at 6:41 am, GLI – Global Links Initiative » Archive » 通过赋予价值扩大社会影响力 said:
    [...] 罗珊·保罗和亚列克谢·克莱:乡村电信的旗舰项目:怎样建设低价电话和网络设备的土豆网项目(Mesh Potato project) [...]

  10. July 10, 2012 at 12:39 am, yagi_uda said:
    who realized the device meshPotato ? it works actually on 2.4 ghz, will be in the furure a version for 5 ghz after 5,850 ghz with particular respect for and could be interesting to see a meshpotato which can works as 2.,462 to 2482 as in 5 ghz (obviously, after 5,850 ghz)

    • July 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm, steve said:
      Sorry for the slow reply. Didn't see this comment. The Mesh Potato was conceived of by this group. Our plans for the next generation MP are still in 2.4GHz. We have considered a two radio (2.4 and 5GHz) device but the bigger priority for us at the moment is to lower the cost.

  11. November 08, 2012 at 10:53 am, Comment les architectures distribuées parlent d’elles-mêmes ? La place des discours sur la technique dans les descriptions de services 2/2 | Adam said:
    [...] l’objet de cet effort de vulgarisation : les pages qui concernent une sous-section de l’onglet ABOUT et qui retracent l’histoire du projet. Le discours technique est alors, comme dans le cas de [...]

  12. August 03, 2013 at 1:33 pm, Village Telco » Village Telco Workshop said:
    […] The Origin of the Mesh Potato Village Telco Update – Sept 2008 […]

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