FAQ

General

What is Commotion?

Commotion is a suite of open-source communications tools that use wireless devices to create decentralized mesh networks and share local services. Read more about the devices Commotion supports and more about how it works below.

Does commotion provide Internet access? Is it possible to share Internet access with Commotion?

Commotion does not provide Internet access.

You can certainly share Internet access using Commotion, though we recommend that you consult the Terms of Service from your ISP. All that is required is to connect a router with Commotion installed to an existing Internet connection to provide an Internet gateway. The Commotion router will share bandwidth with other devices on the mesh network from that connection. Multiple routers can be used to do this on a mesh network to provide multiple gateways and additional bandwidth. See the section "One or more nodes connected to a gateway" on the Common Hardware Setups page.

How does Commotion work?

Commotion is software that is installed on wireless routers. It enables the creation of peer-to-peer (mesh) communications networks. The Commotion Project's goal is to provide an easy-to-assemble package of software and documentation that makes building mesh networks accessible for a wide audience.

What is mesh? What is a mesh network? How does it work?

There are many different types of networks. Most networks that we interact with everyday are based on a hub and spoke model. Mesh networks are based on the idea that any point in the network, or node, can talk to any other point in the network, similar to how human networks work. You can read more about mesh networks in the Commotion Construction Kit's Introduction to Mesh.

What are the core components of Commotion?

Commotion integrates and extends several open source software projects. Among its core components are OLSRd (the mesh routing protocol upon which Commotion is built), OpenWRT (the embedded Linux distribution used to install Commotion on routers), Serval (which enables secure and distributed mesh applications and routing), as well as a number of custom built components.

Will using Commotion allow access to services and websites blocked by our local ISP?

While Commotion does not attempt to block websites or Internet services by default, Commotion networks may be subject to whatever restrictions are in place on that Internet connection. However, it will allow users with an uncensored Internet connection to share that connection with other network users. Users may also share information directly with each other and store that data until such time as an uncensored Internet connection is available.

Is there any difference between your technology and other low cost mesh vendors or firmwares like Open-Mesh, DD-WRT, Freifunk, etc.

The short answer is yes, there are many differences, but there is also a significant amount of overlap. For example, both Commotion and Freifunk use OpenWRT as a base but have different feature sets due to their different use cases.

Each of these projects has goals and priorities that are reflected in their design choices. Commotion is primarily designed to package well-supported, free, open source firmware with default configurations and administrative tools that make it possible for new users to build and maintain a network with minimal outside support.

How can I hear about the latest Commotion developments?

In addition to the project website, there are three Commotion mailing lists designed for varying levels of interest:

You can also join us on IRC in #commotion on the freenode.net server

Access & Installation

What kind of equipment do I need to use Commotion? I have a specific router—Is it compatible with Commotion? Do you have images for it?

At minimum Commotion requires two or more Wi-Fi enabled routers in order to create a standalone network. New users may join an existing network as clients using other Wi-Fi devices such as laptops or mobile phones.

Our development has focused on supporting Ubiquiti devices, and we are testing other brands with similar hardware such as TP-Link, Mikrotik, and others. Technically, any router that uses the ar71xx chipset and supports OpenWRT Attitude Adjustment should work. See our list of potentially compatible routers on our developer wiki for more information. If you have a router on the list and would like to help test new devices, contact us and we might be able to build a custom image for you to test!

As new platforms are tested and confirmed working, we add them to our supported hardware lists and publish pre-compiled images for them. You can view a list of hardware currently in testing on our developer wiki. If you have suggestions of hardware that we should look into, or that you'd like to experiment with, please contact us.

Does Commotion support routers with multiple radios (5Ghz and 2.4Ghz)?

Since version 1.0 of Commotion-Router, support is available for dual radio devices. We test and release images for new supported routers as we have available devices. Check our Developer Hardware in testing wiki page for devices being tested with Commotion Router by the development team and other project contributors. We also maintain a list of potentially compatible routers on our developer wiki.

Who can download and use this software?

Anyone. Commotion is an open source project and a central goal of the project team is to ensure that it is freely available to those who need it, that it works properly on available hardware, and that it can be extended to suit local needs. We strive to make it easily accessible and distributable.

Is there a charge or cost to use Commotion?

No. The software will always be available free of charge, and our documentation is available under a Creative Commons, Share-Alike license. Communities or individuals using Commotion assume the cost of purchasing routers and other hardware used in building their networks. There may also be a cost for a connection to the public Internet from a local provider. The size, scope and operation of a Commotion network is largely up to the community that deploys it.

Can I buy a Commotion Construction Kit?

No. The Commotion Construction Kit is a set of documentation that can be downloaded from this website. It is not a kit of hardware, but a planning and implementation tool intended for communities interested in organizing and building community wireless networks.

Is it possible to acquire parts locally, then download the needed software from somewhere?

Yes. Commotion was designed to work using hardware commonly available in most areas.

Is Commotion only usable in urban areas? What about rural or remote communities?

Commotion is in use in a variety of communities, both urban and rural, and in all types of terrain. Note that in remote areas additional network planning and cost may be necessary to address the challenges of building infrastructure in remote regions, such as limited access to power sources, rough terrain, or large distances in between wireless links.

Security

Is Commotion Secure?

Commotion's security features are constantly evolving. For up-to-date information on Commotion's security model and features, please see Understanding Commotion's Warning Label.

How can users differentiate fake Commotion networks from legitimate mesh networks?

Individuals should treat new networks, based on Commotion or otherwise, with the degree of trust that they deserve. They should only use networks that they trust and, if they doubt the trustworthiness of the network, use standard end-to-end encryption technology like HTTPS to secure their data as it passes over that network.

Is Commotion susceptible to the Heartbleed OpenSSL bug?

No, Commotion's wireless router implementations use CyaSSL, which is a separate implementation of SSL. A developer of CyaSSL posted a note about this. We also tested it ourselves using the nmap scripting engine’s heartbleed vulnerability detector, and determined Commotion is not vulnerable.

Is Commotion susceptible to the Bash Bug/Shell Shock vulnerabilities?

No, Commotion uses the ash shell that comes with BusyBox and is packaged by default with OpenWRT. We have tested and confirmed that this version of the ash shell is not vulnerable to the bash bug vulnerabilities.

Features & Capabilities

What connection speed will this service provide?

Connection speed is determined by the capabilities of the devices comprising the network and the bandwidth available. At this point, Commotion far outperforms the capabilities of wireless data delivery.

Does this service have the capacity to support high traffic?

The overall capacity is dictated by the number, distribution, and type of devices used and, in the case of Internet access, the amount of bandwidth available to the network. However, the software is efficient at distributing load throughout the network.

Is it possible for Wi-Fi enabled mobile phones to access this service? If so, will they have any way to block the service?

A Commotion network is just like any other Wi-Fi network. It is necessary for a Wi-Fi enabled mobile device of any kind to choose to join the network.

How scalable are Commotion networks?

Commotion is theoretically scalable to thousands of nodes across an urban area or multiple rural villages. In practice, however, network scalability is highly dependent on the specific situation: network design, physical environment, management strategies and hardware. The larger the network becomes, the more important it will be to minimize radio interference, balance load on individual nodes, manage node density, and decentralize troubleshooting. Most large scale mesh networks use other technologies, such as point-to-point backhaul links, to bridge clusters of mesh nodes to Internet gateways. Engineered solutions such as these help large networks maintain more consistent performance.

Using this kind of service how large an area can be covered?

This type of service can scale quite well. However, sufficiently large networks do require care and planning for smooth operation. A mesh network’s scalability varies greatly depending on the hardware used, the design of the network, and the network’s physical environment. Though they do not use Commotion software, two examples of large scale mesh networks are the Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network (AWMN) with over 1100 backbone nodes and over 2400 client computers and Spain’s Guifi.net, which has over 19,000 nodes.

How many users can use a single node?

This depends on the capacity of each device, both in terms of simultaneous wireless connections and total bandwidth consumed by each user.

I want to run applications on a Commotion mesh network. How do you set up Application X on a Commotion mesh?

Running network applications on a local mesh network is very similar to running applications on the Internet or any local area network (LAN), and requires at a minimum a local server hosting the app or service. That service can then be advertised between Commotion mesh routers so people connecting to the network can find that application or service. You can check out our Local Applications Guide or the Local Applications CCK module for more information.

Development

Has this project already been pilot tested or is it only at the level of hypothesis?

Commotion has been tested and is in use in multiple locations around the world.

How will the software programming for this project be done?

The project is structured as a traditional open-source project. We are working to coordinate and integrate many different open-source projects operating in this field. You can find all of the Commotion source code on our Github page.

How is Commotion development funded?

Commotion is funded from a variety of sources but as an open source project has an independent life regardless of any particular funding. Commotion has had and will have other funders. The active funding at any particular moment is a consequence of timing, not reflective of how we approach securing support for the work.

Which operating systems are supported by Commotion?

Any WiFi-enabled device, regardless of its operating system, may connect to a standard access point provided by a Commotoin network without having to run the software, thereby utilizing the network without being part of it.

Officially supported software images for Commotion Router can be found on the Commotion Router Download page. Information about platforms under active development can be found in the For Developers section of this site.

I would like to contribute translations of the Commotion interface and documentation. How can I get involved?

You can find out more about getting involved in translation of Commotion on our Commotion Localization page.

Building Networks

Does OTI build networks? How does OTI decide where to work? How does it decide where to deploy Commotion? How does OTI decide who to work with in those countries? And how does OTI connect with people on the ground?

OTI does not deploy Commotion. OTI supports the work of communities by providing trainings, tools, and resources. OTI looks to community partners to decide how they want to engage and how they want to use our tools. We follow their lead.

We have partnered with individuals and groups who work on a wide range of social justice issues. OTI promotes affordable, universal, and ubiquitous communications through partnerships with communities, researchers, industry, and public interest groups, and is committed to maximizing the potentials of innovative open technologies. In the field, OTI works directly with communities by using the tools of project-based learning and participatory design to build and support community controlled tech infrastructure as means of self-governance. Community partners decide how they want to engage and how they want to use our tools. OTI only lists partners and projects that would like to be listed on our website.

I read about {Community Network X}—how can I do that in my community?

OTI and partners have developed a set of learning tools—the Commotion Construction Kit—to help other communities in thinking about how to build sustainable community networks. The CCK is freely available on our website and is continually updated along with the Commotion software. To start, we recommend working with other individuals and groups in your community and starting with the Planning section. If there is a specific network or case study that you think is a model for your community, you should definitely join the Commotion discussion email list to connect directly with the groups that have done those implementations.

How much does it cost to build a Commotion network?

Please refer to the blog post on this subject for more information on the various costs associated with building a Commotion network.

Can I supply Internet access to my whole community through my home router?

You can certainly share Internet access using Commotion, although you will not be able to scale to your whole community with just your home Internet connection. A Commotion router will share bandwidth with other meshed devices on a network if it is connected to the Internet (in that case it’s called a “gateway”). For a community network, you will most likely want to have multiple Internet gateways. This can be accomplished using multiple routers on a mesh network to provide multiple gateways and additional bandwidth. See the section "One or more nodes connected to a gateway" on the Common Hardware Setups page.

How much will it cost to supply Internet access to my whole community?

It depends. Determining the cost of a community wireless network is complicated as it involves many factors, such as the number of people you need to serve, how much area you want to cover in your community, and options in your community for how to connect your network to the Internet, as well as hardware, installation, and labor costs. For a few examples of these costs, please refer to the blog post How much does it cost? To begin thinking about what you want your community network to look like, we recommend bringing your community together to work through the Every Network Tells a Story module from the Commotion Construction Kit, which will help you in your initial planning exercises.

Similar Technologies

Assuming Commotion is implemented successfully, how can users be tracked? If users are untraceable, won't that make it a good tool for criminals?

There is no such thing as perfect security and anonymity, but we strive to make the network as secure as possible while clearly informing users of all of the strengths, weaknesses, and ramifications of the network. Such a tool is powerful in the hands of whatever individuals and communities use it. Software is not inherently good or evil and can be utilized by people with a variety of intents. Activists under an oppressive regime might be considered criminals by the government that they oppose.

Will this project be accessible only during periods of unrest?

This technology is permanent. In fact, many of the underlying components are currently in use around the world today as a means of connecting communities.

What advantage does this method have over satellite Internet?

Commotion is a suite of tools designed to use any connected Internet service, including via satellite, and that connection may be shared with anyone on the network. If no Internet connection is available, network users may still communicate securely and anonymously with each other. Finally, the network is designed to be self-healing, allowing users to join and leave the network as needed.

Press, Research or Collaboration

I am a journalist and would like to interview someone about Commotion.

Thank you for your interest in learning more about Commotion. Please feel free to reach out to Jenny Lu Mallamo, New America’s Media Relations Associate,at mallamo@newamerica.org or (202) 596-3368. Jenny can help direct you to the right information and experts, and can help coordinate interviews

I am a researcher, community group, non-profit, civic entity, etc. interested in collaborating with OTI/Commotion.

Thanks for reaching out! Before getting started, we recommend that you explore our resources on the Commotion Website. If you are thinking about starting a network, the Commotion Construction Kit is designed to help you through the planning, building, installation, and networking basics needed for starting a wireless network using Commotion.

Can you tell me about/connect me with communities doing mesh networks?

Yes. Nearly all Commotion users are on the Commotion discussion list and we have compiled a set of case studies on specific projects.