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Green Communications offers a hardware and software solution that makes setting up a mesh network

really easy. The hardware are essentially mesh routers,


which come in two flavors:
1. Embedded PCs with Intel Atom 1.6 GHz processors
and 1 GB of RAM, containing two WiFi network
interfaces with Atheros chips (ath9k) and one wired
Ethernet interface.

LabWorks
a mesh routing daemon (which exposes precise network topology information via D-Bus),
a Web server and a JavaScript/HTML5 application
that shows the state of the network in real time,
accessible from any host via HTTP and XML.
an SNMP agent for configuration purposes.
Note that a system administrator can have shell
access on each machine (through SSH or a serial
console) and handle it as any Linux-based system.
These routers are thus very open, which advantages for teaching are the following.

A Low-Cost Platform for


Learning Embedded
Development
2. Raspberry Pis model B (ARM 700 MHz processor
and 512 MB of RAM) with two WiFi USB dongles
with Atheros chips (ath9k-htc).

These routers run a classical Linux system onto which


Green Communications software has been installed to
run mesh networks. The software is composed of:

Raspberry Pi is the first-choice platform for learning embedded development: design of minimalistic systems,
cross-compilation, limited resources environments.
Green Communications routers based on Raspberry Pi are provided with a software development kit
(based on Buildroot) which allows the development of
native applications for the router on a standard desktop computer, which is the way to go with embedded
development.
To our knowledge, no other commercial mesh router
allows deployment of native applications developed by
the administrator or the student on the router itself.
Conversely, the Raspberry Pi proposes by default no
mesh network software.

Transparent Functioning
All Green Communications routers run a classical Linux
system. Thus it is possible to open a shell session to
study the way they work from the inside as well as how
Green Communications software is integrated with the
system. It is possible to change the system configuration and learn/test simple configurations (iproute,
iptables, etc.) or complex ones (advanced network
configuration: policy routing, traffic shaping, network
namespaces, etc.).
Unlike with routers running a proprietary system,
each student will be able to reuse the acquired skills
on any Linux system shell deal with in the future, be
it a network hardware or not! In other words, with
other systems, you learn how to operate some brand
of routers; with Green Communications routers, you
learn how to operate Linux and Unix more generally.

The Possibility to Deploy and


Study Mesh Networks
Other mesh network routers are usually too expensive for universities to be able to buy enough of them to
deploy real large-scale mesh networks, but more importantly to organize courses and lab works with enough
machines per student. By embedding its software in
Raspberry Pis for a very moderate price, Green Communications let each student handle her own mesh
router and deploy large networks.
It is an opportunity for students to familiarize with
an innovative kind of network and discover interesting
problems often dealt with only in research. Achieving
this with other mesh routers available on the market is
more difficult and definitely more expensive.

The Possibility to Create


Innovative Applications for the
Router
Mesh software from Green Communications exports
lots of information about the currently working network:
the topology, the capacity of each link, the number of
clients connected to each access point, the gateways,
etc. Some of this information, like the capacity per link,
are not even known or computed by other commercial
mesh routers. This information is obviously essential
to let students understand (and see) the actual working
of a mesh network.
But that is not all: there is a way to retrieve that information automatically and using standard interfaces
(D-Bus, HTTP, XML). This makes it possible to develop
new applications that take advantage of it either directly on the router or somewhere else in the network.
A whole range of innovative applications can be developed. For instance a computer science project for
students could be to develop a social game that makes
use of this information, not unlike Ingress, developed
by Google.
To our knowledge, no other commercial router allows building of programs that exploit the nature of
and information related to the mesh network for
which they have been designed.

Standard Protocols for the


Teaching of Networking
Except for the routing protocol itself, all Green Communications software use standard protocols (pretty
much every mesh router on the market use proprietary
routing protocols for the mesh). So Green Communications routers are the best opportunity for the students
to get in touch with a whole stack of network protocols
essential to their general culture of computer scientists.
For instance:
understand IP routing (possible exercise: compare
the topology displayed by a router with its routing

table, rebuild the topology based on the routing table


of each router, capture and follow the network traffic
from one machine to another using tcpdump, etc.),
network configuration with SNMP (understand/write
an MIB, interact with an SNMP agent, extend it),
essential protocols and application languages as
HTTP and XML (possible exercise: ask for the mesh
network topology using an HTTP request, get as a
response the graph in XML, parse and interpret the
result),

unlike many other routers, these machines are designed for transparency: they export a maximum
of information about their working state using open
protocols and languages,
it is possible to develop applications that make use
of this information,
these machines allow to deploy a large mesh network for a low cost.

Web development with HTML5 and JavaScript (possible exercise: extend the visualization Web interface
from Green Communications, which source code is
distributed along with the router, with new features).
Other commercial routers are designed first and
foremost as black boxes and are aimed at easing
the work of a professional system administrator. The
openness and the features of Green Communications
routers make the study of the points above a lot easier.

internet

Conclusion
Green Communications offers open embedded machines that contain a software for the simple deployment of mesh networks. These machines are especially well-suited for teaching not only in networking but
also on more general topics (embedded programming,
system programming, Linux/Unix, etc.). They are more
interesting than other commercial routers because:
they use a larger set of standard and widespread
software, protocols and languages, which are essential for computer scientists,
moreover, this set is not limited to network-related applications, but pertain to more general topics (Linux,
D-Bus, etc.).
unlike almost all other routeurs, students have access to most of the system and can extend and
modify it at will,

A Green Communications mesh network.

Contact Us
Green Communications
contact@green-communications.fr
www.green-communications.fr