Mesh networking embraces open-source telephony

Asterisk, the open-source application that provides the functionality of a large telephone switch, can now run over a LocustWorld mesh network

UK wireless networking company LocustWorld has added support for an open-source PBX application to its meshboxes which are used to build mesh networks.

The software, called Asterisk, provides all the functionality of a standard public branch exchange (PBX) system, including auto attendant, voice mail and conference call features. It also supports voice-over-IP (VoIP).

Asterisk can now be run on any node in a wireless network based on LocustWorld's MeshAP software. According to Richard Lander, founder of LocustWorld, this will allow mesh networks to offer an interactive voice service as well as providing high-speed access to the Internet.

"The mesh service provider can become the local telephony company," said Lander.

"Mesh operators can go and get a wholesale deal from a larger VoIP provider that lets them terminate with the public telephony network. They can also easily swap to another wholesale provider to get a better deal without the end users being affected," Lander added.

Earlier this month, Linux advocate Jon 'Maddog' Hall predicted that the market for open-source voice-over-IP (VoIP) services would be bigger than the Linux market.

"I predict that over next three years, VoIP using an open-source solution, such as Asterisk, will generate more business than the entire Linux marketplace today," Hall told LinuxWorld Expo in London.

"Today's PBX solutions are incredibly expensive, closed source and proprietary. Asterisk is approximately one-tenth of the price of a proprietary PBX system," Hall added.

Lander believes that Asterisk has the potential to dramatically change the way companies pay for their telephony services, so that buying a piece of hardware to switch telephone calls could soon be a thing of the past.

"This freely downloadable program provides a fully functional voice switch that you would normally have to go on a big shopping trip for," said Lander.

"In the old days people used to buy a dedicated machine just for word processing. Today they go out and buy a dedicated telephone switching device, but Asterisk means you can do all that on a PC," Lander added.

Back in April, LocustWorld added support for VoIP to its mesh software. Its meshboxes are now being deployed worldwide, from Scotland and Yorkshire to Washington State and the Gulf Coast of Florida. In many cases, community activists are using them to bring high-speed connectivity to areas where ADSL and cable broadband aren't available.

Ofcom, the communications regulator, is currently deciding how VoIP services should be governed in the UK.