Wireless community network

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The Freifunk-Initiative installing Wi‑Fi antennas in Berlin-Kreuzberg in 2013.

Wireless community networks (WCNs) or wireless community projects are organizations that take a grassroots approach to providing a viable alternative to municipal wireless networks for consumers.[1]

The wireless community networks frequently set up wireless mesh networks which rely primarily on the sharing of unmetered residential and business DSL and cable Internet. This sort of usage might be non-compliant with the Terms of Service (ToS) of the typical local providers that deliver their service via the consumer phone and cable duopoly. Wireless community network sometimes advocate complete freedom from censorship, and this position may be at odds with the Acceptable Use Policies of some commercial services used. Some internet service provider (ISPs) do allow sharing or reselling of bandwidth.[2]

History[edit]

A cantenna connected to a One Laptop per Child.

Wireless community networks started as projects, that were an evolution of amateur radio using packet radio, as well as an outgrowth of the free software community, which in itself substantially overlaped with the amateur radio community.[citation needed] Wireless neighborhood area networks were established with the help of technology enthusiasts in the early 2000s.[3] The Redbricks Intranet Collective (RIC) started 1999 in Manchester, UK, to allow 30+ flats in the Bentley House Estate to share the subscription cost of one leased line from British Telecom (BT).[4] Wi-Fi was quickly adopted by technology enthusiasts and hobbyists, because it was an open standard and consumer Wi-Fi hardware was comparatively cheap.[5]

Wireless community networks started out by turning wireless access points designed for short-range use in the home into multi-kilometre long range Wi-Fi by building high-gain directional antennas. Rather than purchasing commercially available units, some of the early wireless community network groups sometimes advocate homebuilt antenna construction. Examples include the cantenna and RONJA, an optical link that can be made from a smoke flue and LEDs. The circuitry and instructions for such DIY networking antennas were released under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).[6][7] Municipal wireless networks, funded by local governments, only started being deployed from 2003 onward.[8]

Early community projects[edit]

The Melbourne Wireless Network in Rowville.

By 2003 a number of wireless community projects had established themselves in urban areas across North America, Europe and Australia. In June 2000 Melbourne Wireless Inc. was established in Melbourne Australia as a not-for-profit project to establish a metropolitan area wireless network using off-the-shelf 802.11 wireless equipment. By 2003 Melbourne Wireless had 1,200 hotspots.[9] In 2000 Seattle Wireless was founded with the stated aim of providing free WiFi access and share the cost of Internet connectivity in Seattle, USA. By April 2011 Seattle Wireless had 80 free wireless access points all over Seattle and was steadily growing.[10]

In August 2000 Consume was founded in London England as "collaborative strategy for the self provisioning of a broadband telecommunications infrastructure". Founded among others by Ben Laurie, Consume attempted to build a wireless infrastructure as alternative to the monopoly-held wired metropolitan area network.[11] Aside from providing Wi-Fi access in East London, Consume installed a large antenna on the roof of the former Greenwich Town Hall and documented the current states of wireless connections in London. The Consume project created political pressure on municipal authorities, by staging public events, exhibitions, encouraging consumers to set up wireless equipment and setting up temporary Wi-Fi hotspots at events in East London. While Consume generated sustained media attention it did not establish a lasting wireless community network.[12]

The Wireless Leiden hobbyist project on the other hand, after being established in September 2001, was constituted as non-profit foundation in 2003 with more than 300 active users. The Wireless Leiden foundation set out to facilitate the cooperation of local government, businesses and residents to provide wireless networking in Leiden Netherlands. The first wireless community network in Spain was RedLibre, founded in September 2001 in Madrid. By 2002 RedLibre coordinated the efforts of 15 local wireless groups and maintained free RedLibre Wi-Fi hotspots in five cities. RedLibre has been credited for facilitating the widespread availability of WLAN in the urban areas of Spain.[13] In Italy Ninux.org was founded by students and hackers in 2001 to establish a grassroots wireless network in Rome, similar to Seattle Wireless. A major turning point for Ninux was the lowering of priceses in 2008 for consumer wireless equipment, such as antennas and routers. Ninux volunteers installed an increasing number of antennas on the roofs of Rome. The Ninux wireless community network in Rome has served as example for other urban community wireless networks in Italy. By 2016 similar wireless networks had been installed in Florence, Bolongna, Pisa and Cosenza. While Ninux inspired community projects in Italy share common technical and organizational frameworks, the working groups supporting these urban wireless community networks are driven by the different needs of the city in which they operate.[14]

A Patras Wireless Network (PWN) access point, the first city-wide wireless community network in Greece.

Houston Wireless was founded in the Summer of 2001 as the Houston Wireless Users Group. The telecommunications providers were slow to roll out third-generation wireless (3G), so Houston Wireless was established to promote high-speed wireless access across Houston and its suburban areas. Houston Wireless experimented with different network protocols, such as IPsec, mobile IP and IPv6, as well as different wireless technologies, including 802.11a, 802.11g and ultra-wideband (UWB). By 2003 Houston Wireless had 30 WLAN hotspots, 100 people on their mailing lists and their monthly meetings were attended by about 25 people.[15] NYCwirelsss was established in New York City in May 2001 with the aim of providing public hotspots and promote the use of consumer owned unlicensed low-cost wireless networking equipment. In order to get more public Wi-Fi hotspots installed, NYCwirelsss contracted with the for-profit company Cloud Networks, which was staffed by some of the founding members of the NYCwireless community project. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001 NYCwirelsss helped to provide emergency communication by quickly assembling and deploying free Wi-Fi hotspots in areas of New York City that had no other telecommunications. In the summer of 2002 the Bryant Park wireless network became the flagship project of NYCwireless, with about 50 users every day. By 2003 NYCwireless had more than 100 active hotspots throughout New York City.[16]

Early project in rural areas[edit]

A volunteer installing a "supernode" of guifi.net. In July 2018 guifi.net had over 35,000 active nodes and about 63,000 km of wireless links.[17]

In 2000 guifi.net was founded because commercial internet service providers did not build a broadband Internet infrastructure in rural Catalonia. The guifi.net was conceived as a wireless mesh network, were households can became a node in the network by operating a radio transmitter. Not every node needs to be a wireless router, but the meshed wireless community network relies on some volunteers being connected to the Internet and sharing that access with others. In 2017 guifi.net had 23,000 nodes and was described as the biggest mesh network in the world.[18]

In 2001 BCWireless was initiated to help communities in British Columbia, Canada, set up local Wi-Fi networks. BCWireless hobbyists experimented with IEEE 802.11b wireless networks and antennas to extend the range and power of signal, allow bandwith sharing among local group members and establishing wireless mesh networks. The Lac Seul First Nation communities set up their own Wi-Fi network and constituted the non-profit K-Net to manage an IEEE 802.11g based wireless network to provide the entire reserve with Wi-Fi using the unlicensed spectrum in combination with licensed spectrum at 3.5 GHz.[19]

Co-operation between community networks[edit]

For the most, early wireless community projects had a local scope, but many still had a global awareness. In 2003 wireless community networks initiated the Pico Peering Agreement (PPA) and the Wireless Commons Manifesto. The two initiatives defined attempts to build up an infrastructure, so that local wireless mesh networks could become extensive wireless ad hoc networks across local and national boundaries.[20] In 2004 Freifunk released the OpenWrt based firmware FFF for Wi-Fi devices that participate in a community network, which included a PPA, so that the owner of the node agrees to provide free transit across the free network.[21]

Technical approach[edit]

A Linksys WRT54GS

There are at least two different types of technical approaches to building a wireless community network:

Firmware[edit]

Wireless equipment, like many other consumer electronics, comes with hard-to-alter firmware that is preinstalled by the manufacturer. When the Linksys WRT54G series was launched in 2003 with an open source Linux kernel as firmware, it immediately became the subject of hacks and was adopted as hardware of choice by community wireless volunteers. In 2005 Linksys released the WRT54GL version of its firmware, to make it even easier for customers to modify the firmware. Community network hackers experimented with increasing the transmission power of the Linksys WRT54G or increasing the clock speed of the CPU to speed up data transmission.[23]

The OpenWrt 18.06.1 login screen.

The wireless community network hobbyists got another boost when in 2004 the Open Wireless Real Time (OpenWrt) firmware was released as open source alternative to proprietary firmware.[24] The Linux based embedded operating system could be used on embedded devices to route network traffic. Through successive versions of the firmware, OpenWirt eventually could function as substitute for the firmware of several hundred different wireless devices and Wi-Fi routers in particular.[25] OpenWrt was named in honor of the WRT54G. The OpenWrt developers provided extensive documentation and the ability to include one's own code in the OpenWrt source code and compile the firmware.[26]

In 2004 Freifunk released the FFF firmware for wireless community projects, which modified OpenWrt so that the node could be configured via a web interface and added features to better support a wireless ad hoc network with traffic shaping, statistics, Internet gateway support and an implementation of the Optimized Link State Routing Protocol (OLSR). A Wi-Fi access point that joined the Freifunk community network by booting the FFF firmware automatically announced its Internet gateway capabilities to other nodes in the networks using OLSR HNA4. When a FFF node disappeared, for example because it was switched off, the other nodes in the Freifunk mesh registered the change in the network topology through the discontinuation of HNA4 announcements. At the time, Freifunk in Berlin had 500 Wi-Fi access points and about 2200 Berlin residents used the wireless community network free of charge.[27] The Freifunk FFF firmware is among the oldest approaches to establishing a wireless mesh network at a significant scale. Other early attempts at developing an operating system for wireless devices that supported large scale wireless community projects were Open-Mesh and Netsukuku.[28]

In 2006 Meraki Networks Inc was founded. The Meraki hardware and firmware had been developed as part of a Ph.D. research project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to provide wireless access to graduate students. For a number of years the low cost Meraki products fueled the growth of wireless mesh networks in 25 countries.[29] Among the early Meraki based wireless community networks was the Free-the-Net Meraki mesh in Vancouver, Canada. Constituted in 2006 as legal co-operative, members of the Vancouver Open Network Initiatives Cooperative paid five Canadian dollar per month to access the community wireless network provided by individuals who attached Meraki nodes to their home wireless connection, sharing bandwidth with any cooperative members nearby and participating in a meshed wireless network.[30]

Community network software[edit]

By 2003 the Sidney Wireless community project had launched the NodeDB software, to facilitate the work of community networks by mapping the nodes participating in a wireless mesh network. Nodes needed to be registered in the database, but the software generated a list of adjacent nodes. When registering a node that participated in a community network, the maintainer of the node could leave a note on the hardware, antenna reach and firmware in operation and so find other network community members who were willing to participate in a mesh.[31]

Organization[edit]

Organizationally, a wireless community network requires either a set of affordable commercial technical solutions or a critical mass of hobbyists willing to tinker to maintain operations. Mesh networks require that a high level of community participation and commitment be maintained for the network to be viable. The mesh approach currently requires uniform equipment. One market-driven aspect of the mesh approach is that users who receive a weak mesh signal can often convert it to a strong signal by obtaining and operating a repeater node, thus extending the mesh network.

Such volunteer organizations focusing in technology that is rapidly advancing sometimes have schisms and mergers.[citation needed] The Wi-Fi service provided by such groups is usually free and without the stigma of piggybacking. An alternative to the voluntary model is to use a co-operative structure.[32]

Business models[edit]

Wireless community projects made volunteer bandwith-sharing technically feasable and have been credited with contributing to the emergence of alternative business models in the consumer Wi-Fi market. The commercial Wi-Fi provider Fon was established in 2006 in Spain. Fon customers were equiped with a Linksys Wi-Fi access point that run a modified OpenWrt firmware, so that Fon customers shared Wi-Fi access among eachother. Public Wi-Fi provisioning through FON customers was broadened when FON entered a 50 percent revenue-sharing agreement with customers who made their entire unused bandwith available for resale. In 2009 this business model gained broader acceptance when British Telecom allowed its own home customers to sell unused bandwidth to BT and FON roamers.[33]

Wireless community projects for the most provide best-effort Wi-Fi coverage. However, from the mid 2000s onward local authorities started to contract with wireless community networks to provide municipal wireless networks or stable Wi-Fi access in a defined urban area, such as a park. Wireless community networks started to participate in a variety of public-private partnerships. The non-profit community network ZAP Sherbrooke has partnered with public and private entities to provide Wi-Fi access and received financial support from the University of Sherbrooke and Bishop's University to extend the coverage of its wireless mesh throughout the city of Sherbrooke, Canada.[34]

Regulation[edit]

Certain countries regulate the selling of internet access, requiring a license to sell internet access over a wireless network. In South Africa it is regulated by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).[35] They require that WISP's apply for a VANS or ECNS/ECS license before being allowed to resell internet access over a wireless link.


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Morteza M. Zanjireh; Hadi Larijani (May 2015). A Survey on Centralised and Distributed Clustering Routing Algorithms for WSNs (PDF). Conference: IEEE 81st Vehicular Technology Conference: VTC2015-Spring. Glasgow, Scotland. pp. 1–6. doi:10.1109/VTCSpring.2015.7145650.
  2. ^ Wireless-Friendly ISPSs Electronic Frontier Foundation accessed 4 May 2011
  3. ^ Wolter Lemstra, Vic Hayes & John Groenewegen (2003). The Innovation Journey of Wi-Fi: The Road to Global Success. Cambridge University Press. p. 188. ISBN 9781139492577.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Internet and Evolution in Manchester Communities". 15 August 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  5. ^ Wolter Lemstra, Vic Hayes & John Groenewegen (2003). The Innovation Journey of Wi-Fi: The Road to Global Success. Cambridge University Press. p. 188. ISBN 9781139492577.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  6. ^ Talkin' 'bout my generation November 16, 2006
  7. ^ Free Culture, Free Software, Free Infrastructures!, Interviews with Klohjschi, Jürgen Neumann (Freifunk Germany), Kurt Jansson (Wikimedia Germany), Rishab Aiyer Ghosh (United Nations University), Lawrence Lessig (Creative Commons), Allison, Benoit (Montréal Wireless Community) October 18, 2006
  8. ^ Wolter Lemstra, Vic Hayes & John Groenewegen (2003). The Innovation Journey of Wi-Fi: The Road to Global Success. Cambridge University Press. p. 188. ISBN 9781139492577.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  9. ^ Rob Flickenger (2003). Building Wireless Community Networks. O'Reilly Media. p. 126. ISBN 9780596005023.
  10. ^ Paolo Santi (2012). Mobility Models for Next Generation Wireless Networks: Ad Hoc, Vehicular and Mesh Networks. John Wiley & Sons. p. 109. ISBN 9781118344903.
  11. ^ Rob Flickenger (2003). Building Wireless Community Networks. O'Reilly Media. p. 126. ISBN 9780596005023.
  12. ^ Adrian Mackenzie (2010). Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures. MIT Press. p. 117. ISBN 9780262014649.
  13. ^ Rob Flickenger (2003). Building Wireless Community Networks. O'Reilly Media. p. 127. ISBN 9780596005023.
  14. ^ Leonardo Maccari, Paolo Magaudda, Stefano Crabu & Federica Giovanella (2016). "Hackivism, Infrastructures and LegalFrameworks in Community Networks: the Italian Case of Ninux.org" (PDF). p. 7.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  15. ^ Rob Flickenger (2003). Building Wireless Community Networks. O'Reilly Media. p. 125. ISBN 9780596005023.
  16. ^ Rob Flickenger (2003). Building Wireless Community Networks. O'Reilly Media. p. 124. ISBN 9780596005023.
  17. ^ "What is guifi.net?".
  18. ^ Ileana Hamburg & Alexandra David, eds. (2017). Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Skills in Europe: Examples to Improve Potential Entrepreneurial Spirit. Verlag Barbara Budrich. p. 25. ISBN 9783847409601.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  19. ^ Andrew Clement, Michael Gurstein, Graham Longford, Marita Moll & Leslie Regan Shade, eds. (2011). Connecting Canadians: Investigations in Community Informatics. Athabasca University Press. p. 192. ISBN 9781926836041.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  20. ^ Adrian Mackenzie (2010). Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures. MIT Press. p. 113. ISBN 9780262014649.
  21. ^ Alessandro Aldini & Alessandro Bogliolo (2014). User-Centric Networking: Future Perspectives. Springer. p. 39. ISBN 9783319052182.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  22. ^ Daniel Bean (8 March 2013). "Commotion Wireless: Free and Open Way to Network". Retrieved 27 May 2019.
  23. ^ Adrian Mackenzie (2010). Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures. MIT Press. p. 110. ISBN 9780262014649.
  24. ^ Adrian Mackenzie (2010). Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures. MIT Press. p. 110. ISBN 9780262014649.
  25. ^ Adrian Mackenzie (2010). Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures. MIT Press. p. 112. ISBN 9780262014649.
  26. ^ Tod E. Kurt (2006). John Wiley & Sons. John Wiley & Sons. p. 301. ISBN 9780470072714.
  27. ^ Alessandro Aldini & Alessandro Bogliolo (2014). User-Centric Networking: Future Perspectives. Springer. p. 38. ISBN 9783319052182.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  28. ^ Alessandro Aldini & Alessandro Bogliolo (2014). User-Centric Networking: Future Perspectives. Springer. p. 39. ISBN 9783319052182.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
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  31. ^ Adrian Mackenzie (2010). Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures. MIT Press. p. 130. ISBN 9780262014649.
  32. ^ Easier said than done: Second thoughts about municipal Wi-Fi May 25th 2007
  33. ^ Vern Fotheringham & Chetan Sharma (2009). Wireless Broadband: Conflict and Convergence. John Wiley & Sons. p. 139. ISBN 9780470381595.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  34. ^ Andrew Clement, Michael Gurstein, Graham Longford, Marita Moll & Leslie Regan Shade, eds. (2011). Connecting Canadians: Investigations in Community Informatics. Athabasca University Press. p. 191. ISBN 9781926836041.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  35. ^ OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Develop (July 24, 2008). OECD Economic Surveys: South Africa 2008: South Africa - Economic Assessment. OECD Publishing. p. 103. ISBN 978-92-64-04692-4.

External links[edit]