Mesh Network In The Air!

Connectivity of the commercial airlines has increased drastically over the past 50-60 years. They now cover pretty much the entire globe. The number of operators are more than ever in the airline industry. The air crafts themselves are highly advanced and now are able to provide sophisticated services and features to the passengers like never before.

Now, How can this be leveraged in telecommunications all over the world? The idea or the concept below might be a very far fetched, futuristic looking and impractical one at this moment. But not an impossible one. Hear it out.

Let’s look at the world map,at any given instant, with the overlay of the flight path data of all the airline operators in the world – both  cargo, as well as passenger airlines. Here is what it looks like for the passenger flights alone at the instant this post was being written. At any given point of time, the map looks more or less the same – the density of air crafts in the air.

This can be leveraged into providing a “Mesh Network In The Air”, the topic for today’s post.

Flight Positions overlay on world map. Courtesy:  http://www.flightradar24.com/

Flight Positions overlay on world map. Courtesy:  http://www.flightradar24.com/

Here is how the flight path of all the air crafts in the world look like.

Simplified Flight Paths

Simplified Flight Paths

How:

Let’s assume we are able to install commercially available routers (communication devices) with powerful radios which can beam data to and from the other air crafts. The air craft has all the power that the router and the radio component needs to go about doing its job. This way each of the aircraft can communicate with other air crafts in the range. The range can be made configurable based on certain criteria and costs.

Each of the routers and the radio module on-board the air craft must be able to advertise itself as operational and ready-to-serve. This way routers can indicate whether they can participate in the building of the Mesh Network.

The protocol-suite(s) itself running on-board these routers must cater to the following:

   (i) Route the path to a different advertised and available router-on-craft to maintain the continuity in communication.

  (ii) Discover (advertising capabilities on radio) and auto-configure themselves with the next router-on-craft that comes up “online” to serve.

 (iii) Handle a particular router’s entry/exit from participating in the formation of the Mesh Network.

 (iv) <More scenarios here – TBD>

Why:

 – An “in-between-solution”  to the very expensive satellite communication and the terrestrial wired/wireless networks.

– If any loss of all means of terrestrial communications (maybe due to natural calamity in a particular geography) , the Mesh-In-The-Air can be made available at short notice restoring critical communications.

– Possibility of more capable services on-board the air craft – both for passengers as well as features for operators – advertising, commercial benefits etc.

–  ATC communication now more efficient and in case of accidents – more relevant and up-to-date data available for post-mortem/analysis. Data might be synced with other air crafts in the vicinity and which is part of the mesh and can be relayed to the ATC.

– Aircraft-to-aircraft direct communication possibility opened –  detection and avoiding collision made more efficient and fool proof. This is a mutual and/or additional benefit.

A Rough Visualization:

It is to be noted that the below is for illustration purposes only. The  air crafts show here forming a mesh network, in the real world scenario, would not be separated in distance as much as shown below.

Mesh Network Of Aircrafts

Mesh Network Of Aircrafts

 

Update [18th March 2015]:

Brainstorming this idea with a couple of people led to a couple of points to note.

(i)  The aircraft(s) mentioned in the above idea can very well be

  • Hot air balloons which can be kept in flight for long periods of time or self sustaining ones.
  • Solar powered drones ( think Solar Impulse).

(ii)  Geographies covered by these networks need not be just in the flight paths as mentioned above.

       With point (i) in mind, the mesh-networks can be extended to

  • Arctic/Antarctic geographies.
  • Scandinavian geographies.
  • Deserts ( if needed).
  • Areas where either terrestrial network infrastructure is deficient or non-existent.