UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering
University of California San Diego

Mushroom Networks Courting Commerce—and Controversy?

ECE professor Rene Cruz demonstrates his access point aggregator for peer-to-peer resource sharing of Internet andwidth.

Rene Cruz and Cahit Akin are academics with an entrepreneurial twist. Cruz is a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Jacobs School, and Akin is a principal at ITU Ventures and a volunteer at Calit2. But in their spare time, they have launched a startup called Mushroom Networks, Inc., which is beta testing the APX10 access point aggregator. It is a wireless device, roughly the size of a Wi-Fi access point, which creates a local ad-hoc network for peer-to-peer resource sharing of Internet bandwidth.

“Our technology enables a local area network in a residential neighborhood where two or more homes already have broadband Internet access,” says Cruz, the company's chairman. “By intelligent sharing of all the broadband connections in an area, we can deliver tremendous increases in download and upload speeds—between two and ten times faster or more—at very low cost.”

Two years ago, during the course of Calit2's Adaptive Systems project, Cruz helped organize a workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation on how the U.S. might re-invigorate research in high-speed Internet access networks. “I asked a young student in my office how much he paid for his Internet service, and he replied $5 per month, to his neighbor, who let him use his Wi-Fi access point,” recalls Cruz .“I think this type of business model is more prevalent than you might expect, and it motivated me to think about ways where everybody is better off, including the Internet service providers [ISPs].”

“By pooling their bandwidth, each neighbor can derive a tangible benefit in the form of increased reliability,” explains Akin, who doubles as president and CEO of Mushroom Networks. “Due to the increase in peak data transfer speeds, this technology leads to a faster Internet experience for popular applications such as web browsing, file downloading, e-mail, network gaming, and peer-to-peer file transfer.”

The immediate target market: neighbors who already have broadband connections, but who want more bandwidth at specific times. The technology is potentially controversial, especially among ISPs, because a user without a broadband access account could set up an APX10, then aggregate and use bandwidth from neighbors who do pay for broadband service. On the other hand, the neighbors could also benefit by being given wireless access to the aggregation network.

“We believe that sharing and cooperation is good, but we do not condone use of broadband service without permission,” argues Cruz. “This technology may well raise ethical questions about certain kinds of uses, but those questions should not outweigh the very legitimate benefits of this technology to society.”

Related Links
Website: Mushroom Networks
Website: Rene Cruz
Website: Center for Wireless Communications
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