Disruptive Technology Highlight: FoneMesh Creates Mesh Networks on Mobiles

As a part of the Launchpad activities at the Mobilize Conference, a new start up called Fonemesh will publicly announce their potentially disruptive technology to the world.

I had the opportunity to interview Caleb Kow, the man who is leading the team behind FoneMesh. To understand what Fonemesh is all about, one must first know what a mesh network is. Borrowing from WikiPedia, a mesh network is:

Mesh networking is a way to route data, voice and instructions between nodes. It allows for continuous connections and reconfiguration around broken or blocked paths by “hopping” from node to node until the destination is reached. A mesh network whose nodes are all connected to each other is a fully connected network. Mesh networks differ from other networks in that the component parts can all connect to each other via multiple hops, and they generally are not mobile.

So basically, a mesh network is a network of devices where each device is connected to all the others around it. Fonemesh seeks to utilize the wireless network stack found in many of today’s mobile phones including Nokia phones, the iPhone, newer BlackBerry models, and so on.

How would a mesh network benefit the average mobile user? Well imagine being able to send files, IM, and conduct voice (VoIP) calls, all over a network powered by a network independent of your mobile network provider. If you have a high-speed connection such as HSPA or EVDO, it can be used as a bridge between your local mesh network and other mesh networks around the world, thanks to Fonemesh. Fonemesh has designed their mesh networks to work via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Fonemesh, as a company, will be building the technology to enable the network to be functional. Application developers, using the company’s SDK and/or API, will build applications that utilize the mesh network. Out of the gate, Fonemesh will provide a few applications to demonstrate the capabilities of the network including VoIP, file transfer, IM, and a few others. One strategic advantage I see Fonemesh having is their network will be expandable and limited only by application developers’ imaginations.

Fonemesh’s dream would be to have their software included out of the box by companies such as Nokia. As I see it, if they play their cards right and prove the power of a mobile mesh network, this is completely possible. As I was interviewing Caleb and his leadership team, the term “acquisition target” kept popping into my head as they told me about the project they’ve been nurturing since March of this year.

When I asked Caleb how Fonemesh will monetize their product, he replied they’ll make money in two different ways. The first will be licensing application developers to write code upon the Fonemesh platform and the second revenue stream will be comprised of graduated levels of support for application developers. That is, developers will have to pay to have phone support and other premium support options.

Caleb and his colleagues are writing their code currently in the Linux environment and their product will be supported on Linux based devices, Windows Mobile, Symbian, iPhone (depending on App Store acception), and OpenMoko upon launch. They will expand to RIM BlackBerry as time goes on.

When I asked how Fonemesh is different from Apple’s Bonjour, Caleb countered by saying Fonemesh will be able to issue certificates on applications to implement a centralized system of integrity and security. Bonjour is ad-hoc and therefore insecure with respect to applications that connect to your device. Additionally, Bonjour is dependent upon device communications between nodes. With Fonemesh, a more redundant network exists that does not depend one one node being accessible.

I asked why Fonemesh is concentrating on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as communication mediums, and Caleb responded by saying because HSPA, LTE, and WiMax are licensed spectrums that require too many hoops to jump through to get going. Wi-Fi is easily utilized bandwidth and is available on each device that supports the 802.11g protocol.

In closing, Caleb wanted to stress that their technology is complimentary to telcos who have already loaded towers and data networks. As he said,

Our technology is in fact complementary to telcos to solve last-mile congestion problems at cell towers. right now we all know that the introduction of high speed data devices (3G iPhone, etc) are putting huge loads on existing cell tower infrastructure.

Fonemesh has what seems to be some promising technology, that if adopted, could cause a shift in the way we communicate on our mobile phones. The question remains: Will only mobile power users adopt this mesh technology? Or, perhaps, can the company break in to the mainstream and become a major mobile application platform?