What is it?
Reticulum is a cryptography-based networking stack for low-bandwidth, high-latency, wide-area networks built on cheap and readily available hardware. Reticulum allows you to build very wide-area networks with cheap off-the-shelf tools, and offers end-to-end encryption, cryptographically backed multi-hop transport, efficient addressing, resource caching, unforgeable packet acknowledgements and much more.
Reticulum is very well suited to built advanced networked applications running on simple hardware such as 1200-baud packet modems (MicroModem, for example), data radios, LoRa-based radios (RNode, for example), or even ad-hoc WiFi or ethernet networks.
Reticulum is a complete networking stack, and does not use IP or higher layers, although it can be easily tunnelled through conventional IP networks. This frees up a lot of overhead, that has been utilised to implement a networking stack built directly on cryptographic principles, allowing resilience and stable functionality in open and trustless networks.
The primary motivation for designing and implementing Reticulum has been the current lack of reliable, functional and secure minimal-infrastructure modes of digital communication. It is my belief that it is highly desirable to create a cheap and reliable way to set up a wide-range digital communication network that can securely allow exchange of information between people and machines, with no central point of authority, control, censorship or barrier to entry.
Almost all of the various networking stacks in wide use today share a common limitation, namely that they require large amounts of coordination to work. You can’t just plug in a bunch of ethernet cables to the same switch, or turn on a number of WiFi radios, and expect such a setup to provide a reliable platform for communication. The designers of the Internet Protocol had the foresight to create a protocol that powers the modern Internet, and works brilliantly in world very different from when it was conceived, but networks using the traditional IP stack needs large amounts of coordination from the people involved, and without central actors in ultimate control of network segments, it is very easy for a single person to render the platform unusable for everyone else. These limitations are inherent to the design principles of IP, and during the design of IP, this was a very reasonable tradeoff indeed.
Reticulum aims to require as little coordination and trust as possible. In fact, the only “coordination” required is to know how to get connected to a Reticulum network. Since Reticulum is medium agnostic, this could be whatever is best suited to the situation. In some cases, this might be 1200 baud packet radio links over VHF frequencies, in other cases it might be a microwave network using off-the-shelf radios. At the time of release of this document, the recommended setup is using cheap LoRa radio modules with an open source firmware (see the chapter Reference System Setup), connected to a small computer like a Raspberry Pi. The reference setup provides a channel capacity of 4.8 Kbps, and a usable direct node-to-node range of around 15 kilometers (indefinitely extendable by using multiple hops).
The current reference implementation of Reticulum is written in Python, and can be imported into any program to allow it to communicate over a Reticulum network. The API is very simple to use, and has been designed to allow even beginner programmers to build applications using the Reticulum stack.
Furthermore, Reticulum comes with a few basic communication utilities, such as messaging and network diagnostics provided. These make it easier to get started, either as a user of the network or as a developer.
Encryption and amateur radio?
Many countries ban the use of encryption when operating under an amateur radio license. Reticulum offers several encryptionless modes, while still using cryptographic principles for station verification, link establishment, data integrity verification, acknowledgements and routing. It is therefore perfectly possible to include Reticulum in amateur radio use, even if your country bans encryption.
The first release of Reticulum will be in May 2018. The entire project is open source.
Where can I learn more?
If you want to learn more about the details of Reticulum, you can read the current overview document, it is available as a PDF or for reading online. You can also browse the current codebase at the GitHub repository.