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Eric Nam Showcases Meshtastic's Capabilities with a LoRa-Powered Off-Grid iPhone Demo

The open source Meshtastic project is put through its paces in a demo centered around an Apple iPhone and LILYGO T-Deck.

Gareth Halfacree
2 months agoCommunication / HW101

Maker Eric Nam has showcased the clever off-grid communications capabilities of an open source project, getting a LILYGO T-Deck handheld to talk to an Apple iPhone using a Meshtastic mesh network — no cellular signal required.

"Meshtastic enables decentralized, off-grid communication based on LoRa," Nam explains of the open source project, which aims to turn any device with a LoRa-capable radio into an off-grid communication system. "By building your own network, you can do many things within it — such as controlling sensors as well as sending and receiving messages."

With some low-cost LoRa devices and an Apple iPhone, you too can chat off-the-grid — no cellular network necessary. (📹: That Project)

To demonstrate, Nam turned to two devices. The first is a LILYGO T-Deck, launched back in mid-2023 as a Blackberry-inspired portable development device based around the Espressif ESP32-S3 system-on-module (SOM) — which, by itself, lacks the LoRa radio required for Meshtastic use but includes a slot for an optional LoRa module. The second is an Apple iPhone, typically used on a commercial cellular network — and normally of little use if you're outside the network's coverage area.

"Since [the] iPhone does not have a LoRa module," Nam explains of how the devices communicate, "we must connect a module capable of LoRa communication. Here, I used a [LILYGO] T-Beam device. So, my iPhone connects to [the] T-Beam through Bluetooth. I installed Meshtastic's firmware to [the] T-Beam and T-Deck. After installing [it], you just need to configure a few things and you are ready to use it."

Nam demonstrates the point-to-point communication capabilities of Meshtastic, which have been proven to ranges well in excess of 100 miles when paired with suitable hardware, though that's only half the story: the system also supports true mesh networking, allowing messages to be broadcast to multiple devices or routed through an ad-hoc network of receivers until reaching their intended destination.

Nam's full demo is available in the video above; the Meshtastic firmware is published to GitHub under the reciprocal GNU General Public License 3, with more information available on the project website.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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