What is a Mesh Potato?
The Mesh Potato is an Open Hardware project to create a wireless Access Point (AP) combined with an Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA). This project is inspired by small mesh-capable wireless APs like the Meraki Mini and the Open-Mesh Accton Router but is designed to address the needs of developing countries. In particular, the delivery of affordable voice is a critical service. Also, the Mesh Potato is being designed for rugged environments so that it can be housed indoors or outdoors and can be easily secured.
Why did you call it a Mesh Potato?
The name emerged at the first Village Telco workshop in June 2008. We knew we needed a wireless mesh device to which a POTS phone could be connected via an ATA. Mesh + POTS + ATA got us to Mesh Patata (spanish for potato) and thence Mesh Potato. It stuck.
Why not use a product like…?
It would be possible to use an Accton Mini-Router and connect a SIP phone and get the same functionality. We also discovered a SparkLan Wireless AP that has an ATA built in. We ruled out the former as SIP phones are still a bit expensive. We ruled out the SparkLan because the firmware is not open. In general, if we had found an affordable WiFi device with open firmware that was meshable and had an ATA, we would have gone for it.
However, having chosen to do it ourselves, we also identified a number of additional advantages of designing our own device such as being able to develop a ruggedized case ready for outdoor installations with holes for bolting or screwing the device to a wall or pole. We could also address the demands of use in developing countries, making it heat tolerant, putting lightning arresters on all ports, and making sure it ran on 12 volts or something reasonably close. It also gave us a chance to explore the potential of Open Hardware.
What is Open Hardware?
Open Hardware is the application of Open Source principles and licenses to hardware design. It puts us in control of the design process. Previously that would have been unthinkably expensive but thanks to a number of trends, Open Hardware is becoming more and more feasible. It gives us a chance to try and turn traditional supply models on their head and put users firmly in the driver’s seat in technology design.
How can I get hold of a Mesh Potato?
You can order Mesh Potatoes online at http://store.villagetelco.com.