qaul.net implements a redundant, open communication principle, in which wireless-enabled computers and mobile devices can directly form a spontaneous network. Text messaging, file sharing and voice calls are possible independent of internet and cellular networks. Qaul.net can spread like a virus, and an Open Source Community can modify it freely.
In a time of communication blackouts in places like Egypt, Burma, and Tibet, and given the large power outages often caused by natural disasters, qaul.net has taken on the challenge of critically examining existing communication pathways while simultaneously exploring new horizons.
Riots in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Iran and China. We are witnessing a major revolution. Compromising the freedom of speech and information will bring about further reductions in political and social freedoms.
“One consequence of the Internet revolution is that those outside of the earthquake zone know or think they know much more than those there themselves, because the infrastructure there has completely collapsed. While we are viewing pictures of the swept-away airport of Sendai from Zurich, Houston, or Nairobi, those only ten kilometers from the scene know nothing yet.”
Florian Coulmas, director of the German Institut for Japan studies in Tokio about the media in Japan after the earth quake and Tsunami - NZZ, March 14th, 2011
People in Europe and the United States are monitoring both the revolutionary events in Arab, Asian and North African countries as well as the dramatic disasters in Japan or Hawaii in close-to real time.
Are we experiencing a Twitter revolution? The transgressive freedom of speech and freedom of information by digital means of communication is an epochal achievement. Each new media outlet and social network opens up new forms of participation, new angles and perspectives. Each form of communication technology shapes the content and introduces specific characteristics. Even Twitter and Facebook have boundaries.
Online platforms are not necessarily political-revolutionary, and also have a dubious reputation. YouTube dams the traffic in Asia and Africa, Facebook erased the Egyptian Internet activist sites Khaled Said and Mohammed El-Baradei in November 2010, and even Google consistently cooperates with authorities and oppressors around the world.
The dramatic climax of the protests in Cairo occurred on January 28th, 2011, when all Internet and mobile phone connections were completely shut-down for six full days. The nation’s authorities were terrified of their people communicating digitally. But despite the digital shut-downs, the protests grew bigger anyhow.
At the same time one could sense the distance between the people who dared to advance on the streets of Cairo, and an Internet spectatorship that persuaded itself to support a revolution by mouse-click. During that dramatic upheaval the spectators didn’t matter. They were excluded again, as in previous Internet Crack Downs, such as those in Myanmar in September of 2007, in Tibet in March of 2008, in Iran in June of 2009, in the Uighur territories in July of 2009, and in Libya in March of 2011.
The atrocious earthquakes in Haiti on January 12th, 2010 or in Japan on March 11th, 2011 also paint a bleak picture. These natural disasters demonstrate the dramatic vulnerability of our communication society. Despite the existence of a plethora of communication devices, people experiencing the greatest emergencies are often unable to send out cries for help. Many cellular antennas lose service, and remaining networks become overburdened.
The Dream of a Free Network
The simple, automatic network communication for everyone has repeatedly been announced and advertised. However, only solutions for specific devices or proprietary, server-based applications have been realized to date.
“In the last two decades or so, most of the political upheavals had some distinct link to communications technology. The Iranian Revolution (1979) was closely linked to the audio cassette. The first EDSA uprising in the Philippines (1986) was very closely linked to the photocopying machine and so we called it the ‘Xerox Revolution’. Tiananmen, the uprising that failed in China (1989), was called the ‘Fax Revolution’, because the rest of the world was better informed than the rest of the neighbourhood because of the fax machine. The January uprising in the Philippines (2002) represents a convergence between electronic mail and text messaging. And that gave that uprising its specific characteristics.”
Alex Magno, political analyst and professor of sociology in Manila, Phillippines Interview on the documentary ‘Seeing Is Believing’ Canada 2002
Wireless mesh network technologies have been popular since 2000, and have continuously been the subject of research. With OLSR (Open Link State Routing), a mesh network routing protocol as an experimental RFC (Request for Comment, standardization procedures) was published in 2003. Based on this, several implementations followed, including one by the U.S. Navy. In recent years, Ad-Hoc mode has become better supported by the wireless card.
All these applications and software solutions require some amount of configuration and offer only partial functionality. The existing mesh networking communities ( ‘Freifunk’ / ‘Funkfeuer’ ) separate their network from the applications. Although they provide technical possibilities and concepts, the dissemination of information fails due to time spent on configuration, the lack of conventions/standards, and often a lack of know-how. Self-networking becomes a exhausting hassle that is due to the growing list of commercial solutions & suppliers no longer relevant.
Caught in the Net
Industry and network operators often use their positions to create new, locked-down systems - as seen in recent years. The AppStore, for example, has been forcing developers and users of the iPhone, iPod and/or iPad down a path of an Apple-regulated, fee-based distribution system since 2008. The mobile device manufacturers and network operators in particular have worked for a long time to suppress cheaper or competing communications services.
qaul.net is pursuing other approaches and making a provider-independent, self-configuring communication-network available to all applicable devices: Network and operation become one.
Call for freedom
The term qaul is Arabic and means opinion, say, talk or word. Qaul is pronounced like the English word ‘call’.
qaul.net reflects and implements the individual and social design options in the digital age in an exemplary way. It creates a basis to build proper tools to jointly acquire new experiences and new insights.
“Iran’s diaspora was especially effective at promoting the Green Movement (2009) to an online audience that followed tweets, Facebook posts, and web videos avidly, hungry for news from the front lines of the struggle. Tens of thousands of Twitter users turned their profile pictures green in solidarity with the activists, and hundreds set up proxy servers to help Iranians evade Internet filters. For users of social media, the protests in Iran were an inescapable, global story. Tunisia, by contrast, hasn’t seen nearly the attention or support from the online community.”
Ethan Zuckerman, senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and co-founder of Global Voices Argument: The first Twitter Revolution? Foreign Policy January 14, 2011
Everywhere and at all Times
A download of the software qaul.net on wireless-enabled computers, tablets and mobile phones is sufficient in order to participate. The structure of the network and the exchange are managed directly by the tool qaul.net: the software is passed from device to device via a WLAN like a virus. Computers within range can be connected through qaul.net and thereby make the connection to the mesh network. Anyone with a Wi-Fi enabled device can expand or consolidate an existing network, or create their own.
The community project ‘Freifunk’ / ‘Funkfeuer’ and the aid program ‘One Laptop per Child’ use a mesh network. qaul.net takes these developments further by combining the server and router software with the applications on the devices themselves. Event the access to the network is no longer tied to a central entity, so the network can spread as quickly and easily as a virus.
Participation in the Network
qaul.net is different because it does not distinguish the difference between a parent network, the infrastructure, and the individual use of the function. In the qaul.net, every device is part of the network, while it is at the same time working as a functional input and reception tool. The application software is directly coupled with the server and router software. Instead of functioning with only certain brands or systems, qaul.net establishes ONE network between ALL kind of wireless devices.
The software stays under the GPL (Gnu Public License). This ‘viral’ open-source software license guarantees permanent, free availability of the software and its further developments and improvements. A community of developers shall be built for the purpose of maintaining, modifying, and enhancing the software.
Wi-Fi routers today build a very dense network. In most cities, it is common to find more than a dozen strong signals. The record of a direct wireless connection was an astonishing distance of 300 km. Therefore two customary routers were equipped with improvised directional antennas. Such forms of a bridge would also be conceivable for qaul.net, and the network could be expanded almost indefinitely.
But the primary focus is on the neighborhood and the collaborative. qaul.net should not primarily connect routers, but should directly connect the individual computers and mobile devices. This allows the network to become denser, and spontaneous networks between different devices can be established at any time.
qaul.net is passed on like a virus. The users gain access via a wifi devise. Those who choose to access receive through this link the directly installable software, and can then use qaul.net immediately and simultaneously pass access along to others.
qaul.net offers an alternative to expensive or faulty infrastructures. Extensions are possible as a messenger service, and also as a working or learning tool. In case of failure of the internet system, qaul.net can provide a communication tool that is spreading around the neighborhood. qaul.net sensitizes for the conditions and constraints of the infrastructure – even if just playfully used –and provides an incentive to try new forms of networking.
New Modes of Action and Reflection
We reached the age of constructive and collaborative culture techniques long ago. Individual views are shaped by the conditions of communication. Our dependence, however, is hardly realized until we are suddenly trapped and isolated in a blackout.
qaul.net allows us to look behind the curtain and to explore the realm beyond the existing ranges and horizons.
Tools for the Next Revolution
Individual independence and a personal perspective are a prerequisit for a critique of the political system, and also spawn the search for alternatives. This ability even hurries ahead of free speech. qaul.net is therefore dedicated to this dimension of independence and the strengthening of the individual. This community project opens our eyes for a presence that becomes more global, but this presence brings us also more into line, and increases our dependencies. qaul.net inverts this perspective. It perceives from a subjective and specific position, it looks into the neighborhood and from their to the world.
The name qaul.net is a tribute to the Arab insurgents. The project works just like a group of protestors that discover their own action potential as a curious bright spot amidst huge seemingly immoveable power blocks.