LibreRouter, south-south collaboration for local access

The Seed Alliance had the opportunity to support, for the first-time, a joint grant with funding from the 3 regional programs, LibreRouter.

Community Networks (CN) have been depending since their inception on adapting existing of-the-shelf routers to their needs. Free Software development has pushed the barrier of innovation and helped commercial enterprises develop new products over the years. In light of new regulations from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), hardware manufacturers globally closed up their routers to third-party modifications, hindering open innovation and effectively closing the door to CNs to access to the hardware they depend on. The Libre Router project designed and produced a high performance multi-radio wireless router targeted at the global south CNs needs, maintaining a competitive low cost and legal viability.

The main objective of this project is to provide stable availability of the hardware that makes Community Networks possible. The design includes special characteristics that allow for considerable performance improvements of mesh networks due to the use of dual 5Ghz radios. This important characteristic is only available on the market at a much higher price range. The chipset used for the router was selected with stability and robust support in mind, with a target price per router of between 60 to 70 USD, which will allow communities to swap their current most common hardware choices at no extra cost.

  • Two 5Ghz radios for mesh networking
  • One 2.4Ghz radio for local access
  • At least 64MB RAM
  • At least 16MB Flash memory
  • 2 x Gbit ethernet ports
  • Standard RP-SMA antenna connectors
  • Power Over ethernet
  • Outdoor casing
  • OpenWRT/LibreMesh compatibility

The project is also targeting the global south realities such as power consumption, ease of deployment and use, and respect for oral communications. The project also includes the following sub-objectives:

  • Creation of a Wi-Fi Calling application that allows the provision of voice services in networks using LibreRouter.
  • Development of software and/or hardware solutions to reduce the power consumption of the router.
  • Development of a MIMO TVWS transverter.
  • Assemble of a community network management suite, called LibreServer, that facilitates the installation and provision of services in the community networks using LibreRouter.

The LibreRouter project has had a significant impact in the community networks, and similar, movements, even without having released yet a piece of hardware that communities can interact with.

The project has contributed enormously to increase the coordination across a considerable amount of stakeholders from the community networks movements. More than 20 individuals and organizations worldwide, including software developers, hardware designers and manufacturers, community practitioners and researchers have been involved in the process, collaborating in a coordinated manner despite distances, shortage of funds and challenges inherent to creating a product from scratch, in less than 12 months. Consequently, this project has contributed to strengthen the movement and the consolidation of a dependable working team for future projects.

There is a wide consensus around the fact that community networks are one of the main alternatives in the “Connecting the Next Billion” debate. The LibreRouter project, apart from contributing to the strengthening of a core development team, has contributed to reinforce that alternative, by a) making available a hardware and software kit that facilitates the deployment of community networks, and b) raising awareness among many institutions and individuals of the potential that the solution developed has to meet their own communication needs. As a metric for this impact, it is important to note that collectives and organizations from the following countries have expressed their interest – through direct contact in events and through the project’s communications channels – in using LibreRouter in their community networks projects: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Honduras, India, Italy, Kenya, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland and United States of America. Additionally, initiatives working in several countries like NetCommons, or the the International Federation of Library Associations have shown interest on using the technology developed here.

LibreRouter project received USD 101,600 as follows:

USD 40,000 FRIDA scale-up grant
USD 30,000 FIRE scale-up grant
USD 23,500 for interregional work
USD 8,000 for interregional exchanges

The project team compiled a report about their activities, available for download LibreRouter-CompiledReport. 

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