The Untapped Potential Of Wifi In Emergencies

August 23, 2012 | By
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German researchers believe it’s possible to tap domestic WiFi to create emergency mesh networks in crisis when communication networks especially mobile networks fail.

When mobile networks collapse in natural disasters relief workers can be stranded. But German researchers say it’s possible to tap domestic WiFi to create emergency mesh networks.

It is in times of crisis that we need our communication networks most – especially our mobile networks – but they often fail.

Even those that survive the hit of a natural or urban disaster may go into meltdown under the strain of all the people dialing the emergency services, or their loved ones, in their time of need.

But researchers from Darmstadt in Germany have been looking into the possibility of establishing crisis communication networks that can automatically “piggyback” domestic wireless routers (using WiFi) in densely populated urban areas.

“It could help workers in disaster areas to stay in contact with the public and central area control – even when mobile signal towers are down,” says Kamill Panitzek, one of the researchers at the Telecooperation Lab at Darmstadt’s Technical University.

Panitzek and his team will publish their findings in the International Journal of Mobile Network Design and Innovation.

He says internet routers are so commonplace in so many countries that even emergency service personnel in medium sized towns like Darmstadt, which has a population of just 142,000, could tap into wireless signals when required.

Tapping routers

To test the viability of their plan, Panitzek and his colleagues walked through an area of 0.47 square kilometers (0.18 square miles) and pinpointed the location of router signals. Using an Android application to locate the networks, they collected data from 1,971 routers. They say they were careful not to violate any privacy laws.

“Of those located,” says Panitzek, “212 were public or non-encrypted routers.”

“In the city center there were enough routers to form a mesh network with these routers, assuming they only had a range of 30 meters, and they provided good signal strengths for communication,” Panitzek says.

A mesh network is a form of networking where the individual nodes capture and transmit their own data as well as serve as a relay for other nodes.

The researchers say this kind of rich tapestry of intermingled wireless routers could enable emergency service personnel using smart devices, like internet enabled mobile phones or tablet computers, to “piggyback” or tap into the signal of private networks.

“First responders could then access this infrastructure to communicate with each other and command control center,” added Panitzek.

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Category: GLOBAL, TECH

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