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09.07.2015

Stanislav Shalunov: The Internet of the future will be made up of devices

FireChat is the first messenger service which doesn’t need the Internet

The Internet architect Stanislav Shalunov was born on 1 October 1973 into a Jewish family in Moscow, graduated from the Moscow State University Mechanics and Mathematics faculty and left for the USA, to the University of Wisconsin, where he received a master’s degree in computer science. He has always been interested in technology, the future and freedom. Stanislav began working with Internet2, a non-commercial consortium of 230 American universities, which create cutting-edge network applications and technologies, bringing us closer to the “Internet of the future”.

Shalunov succeeded in solving the problem of traffic blockages – he developed the protocol LEDBAT, designed for transferring large amounts of data, which is used by BitTorrent, Apple (for updating software) and other companies, servicing 13-20% of all Internet traffic. Files are split into parts which are saved by everyone who needs them, and are transferred much faster and more effectively than large volumes of data downloaded from a single server.

After solving the problem of transferring traffic, Shalunov turned to the Internet itself.

In 2011 with Misha Benoliel and Greg Hazel he founded the company Open Garden, announcing that traditional routing was no longer effective, and that the future lay in networks with a different mesh topology.

Every device in this network (which became fully possible when wireless technologies came along and cables were no longer needed) becomes a switch for other work stations. The more devices there are, the more stable the network is, and the faster the signal.

Mesh networks make it possible to connect devices without any access to the Internet (for example, for connections of satellites in space). Additionally, a mesh network is economical, as there are no providers, and you don’t have to pay for traffic anymore.

Current tendencies of development and the future of the Internet are very simple: billions of new Internet users will only be familiar with mobile devices. Browsers will have never existed for them. If you look at old users, the time that they spend in mobile applications last year exceeded the time they spent in browsers. Time in mobile applications swiftly grows, and time in browsers slowly decreases.”

Technically, decentralization at many levels is inevitable. For us the decentralization of the actual construction of the network is vital, which will be made up of devices on the periphery, and not of an infrastructure for them,” Shalunov predicts.

In 2014, Open Garden released the FireChat messenger for Android and iOS, which works both with the Internet and on the mesh network through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Users can take a pseudonym on chat, if they don’t want to give their names and go through verification. The users’ messages only exist as long as the applications are open for chat participants. Although recently Open Garden released an additional device, GreenStone, which is first of all another hub in the network, and secondly can keep up to 1,000 messages in its memory.

FireChat has already been used in places with large groups of people, where there is either no Internet, or where it is overloaded by too many devices: last summer at the Burning Man festival in Black Rock desert (Nevada, USA), in November at the Barcardi NH7 Weekender music festival in India, in January at the protests in memory of the slain employees of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, In April during the floods in Kashmir, and in May for the news broadcast from the Mayweather-Pacqueio fight in the Philippines.

But the messenger has also gained renown at protest rallies and meetings. For the first time, users took a mass interest in FireChat during the “sunflower revolution” in Taiwan last April. But the real breakthrough took place in September in Hong Kong: as soon as the authorities threatened to turn off the Internet, half a million new users came to FireChat. The co-founder of Open Garden Misha Benoliel didn’t learn about the protests from the news, but from the sudden increase in downloads of the application. Later this experience was partially repeated in Moscow, and then in Yerevan.

“In Armenia, FireChat was first used during the Night of museums. Everyone goes in large groups from one place to another – this was a good situation to understand how the application works. When the protest began against the rising prices of electricity, #ElectricYerevan also came to FireChat, and hundreds of users on Marshal Baghramyan Avenue used the application both for communicating with each other, and for sending news to other countries. FireChat provides guaranteed communication even if the cellular network does not work, or if the state wants to restrict the spread of information. When the protest died down, the users remained, and now use the messenger in everyday life,” says Open Garden representative Anton Merkurov.

FireChat does not have restrictions for entering chat, which makes it possible for everyone to read general correspondence who is 60 meters from the “last” chat participant. So for soldiers in the ATO zone, where there are considerable problems with communications, this chat may be useful only for discussing everyday problems (or messages need to be “encrypted”). But Open garden does not rule out the possibility of private messages.

FireChat not only solves the problem of physical restriction of access to the Internet, but also the regulation of content. Stanislav Shalunov believes the possibility of communicating without the surveillance of the authorities is one of the main tasks of FireChat:

Tools should work. Umbrellas should protect you from the rain. This also makes them useful against tear gas, but this is not a reason to deliberately make umbrellas with holes in them or make holes in ones that already exist. The forces that want to control communication don’t understand its technical nature: in order for this to be this possible, everything should function worse technically. In FireChat messages are sent directly from one person to another, through a network built from their devices. What and who can be controlled here, and where? You could try to control verbal speech with just as much success.

When I was growing up in the Soviet Union, the state controlled communication technically a lot. A copying device for them was the equivalent of a weapon. As a result, simple office work was artificially complicated. Modern controllers don’t want to remove access to means of communication yet, but their demands resemble prohibiting copying machines from printing sedition materials. To make this possible, they will have to pay: all programs will be selected not because they are the best, but because they are home-made, and their architecture will not be built for optimal work, but for the possibility of ensuring control.”

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