Apr 09 2014

Apple's Multipeer Connectivity Framework Could Be a Game Changer

A new app has stoked excitement around the mesh networking capabilities included in iOS 7.

The Internet has become such an essential part of everyday life that some have deemed it a utility. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has even gone so far as to call Internet access a “basic human right.”

But despite its seeming ubiquity, Internet connectivity is still a challenge in many situations, even in first-world countries like the United States.

That’s why any technology that can extend the reach of the information superhighway is usually met with jubilee. In September, when Apple released iOS 7, the company’s latest version of its mobile operating system, there was a lot of fanfare and attention paid to the new user interface design that Apple Senior Vice President of Design Jony Ive had rolled out.

But Apple also debuted the Multipeer Connectivity Framework, which allows mobile devices to act as peer-to-peer networks. What that means is that one mobile device with access to the Internet could supply connectivity to multiple devices. The term for the technology is mesh networking, and it’s like tethering on steroids.

ExtremeTech has a good overview of how the mesh networking technology in iOS 7 works:

iOS 7′s Multipeer Connectivity apparently allows for the chaining of peer-to-peer connections. So, for example, if Alice is connected to Bob, and Bob is connected to Carol, Alice and Carol can send messages to each other.

Apparently, according to Cult of Mac, this chain can be indefinitely long — so, you might construct a chain of 10 or 25 or 50 devices. As long as no one device goes out of Wi-Fi range, they can all communicate with each other. Furthermore, if one of those devices has an Internet connection, every other member of the mesh can share that connection.

The real-world applications for the technology really home in on the opportunity that peer-to-peer connectivity offers. Cult of Mac reported on a new app, FireChat, that leverages Apple’s Multipeer Connectivity Framework and offers another potential use case:

There’s an ultramarathon that takes place in California each year on a trail called Skyline-to-the-Sea. It’s a roughly 30 mile trail through giant redwood forests where there is no cell connectivity. Using FireChat or some other app that uses iOS 7’s Multipeer Connectivity Framework, race volunteers, staff and participants could extend Internet connectivity and communication in an ad hoc mesh network that extends the length of the course.

The benefit of such an ad-hoc network is how trivially easy it is to set up. Everybody just use FireChat or AirDrop or any other similar app. Boom! Connectivity for everyone.

It’s unlikely that tethered mobile devices will replace access points or wireless signal boosters outright, but having the option to spread the connectivity to others could indeed be a game-changer for mobile broadband access.

<p><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/ivyfield/" target="_blank" title="Flickr">Yutaka Tsutano</a> / Flickr</p>