A mesh network is essentially a simplified, private WiFi network created by chaining together local WiFi routers to form a private, low-cost, enclosed network. Mesh networks most commonly keep communications running in areas of natural disaster or political upheaval–they’re fairly new in the mainstream. We’ve been following the concept of mesh networks for a few years, and the guys over at r/darknetplan have some interesting things to say as well.

Bamboowifi is a startup out of Philadelphia that is making mesh networks its business model. The company created a free, for-profit network by making it ad supported. Users watch a 30-second advertisement in exchange for an hour of Internet usage. Renew for another hour by watching another advertisement–the company is hoping to change the way both brands and consumers think about the Internet by completely changing the ISP business model. Right now, Bamboowifi is covering one neighborhood and hoping to expand to the city of Philadelphia as a whole. Because of the way a mesh network works, as more people that sign up, the signal grows stronger, the service improves and the total coverage consumers share increases.

At least from a commercial perspective, Bamboowifi and mesh networks in general have the opportunity to disrupt the communications business in the same way Square did for payments. They remove fees, lower billing and offer the operator more options with more dependable service. Amid all the regulation talks and reclassification of Internet as a utility, this model seems more in line with the potential future of networking than the current way to access, which has remained unchanged for almost 30 years.

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