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<nettime> Free the Wireless Net!
molly hankwitz on 26 Sep 2000 07:20:43 -0000


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<nettime> Free the Wireless Net!


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 From Wired News, available online at:
http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,38803,00.html

Free the Wireless Net!
by Leander Kahney

3:00 a.m. Sep. 19, 2000 PDT

Five years ago, do-it-yourself activist James Stevens rigged up a
wireless network that let his London neighbors share the high
bandwidth Internet connection he'd installed.

These days, Stevens has far more ambitious plans: He wants to
wirelessly network all of London by using relatively cheap,
off-the-shelf parts. Stevens' project is one of several regional,
free-wireless initiatives trying to combat the high cost of Internet
access.

With the help of dozens of volunteers, Stevens is hoping to create a
city-wide wireless network, built and maintained by the users
themselves.

Unlike the commercial wireless networks, Stevens' Consume the Net
network will offer free access to anyone with a computer and a US$100
wireless networking card.

"Broadband is prohibitively expensive," Stevens said. "A reasonable
level of connectivity is absent. Technology gives us the opportunity
to do it ourselves."

The network will use wireless cards based on the 802.11 ethernet
standard and manufactured by vendors such as Lucent and Apple.
Networked computers will communicate over the unlicensed 2.4 GHz range
of the spectrum, the same frequency used by cordless phones and
Bluetooth devices.

Data between computers can be transmitted at a rate of up to 8 Mbps.
Access to the Internet will be limited by the speed of the primary
broadband, cable modem, or DSL connection, which is often
significantly slower.

Computers will have to be within 45 meters (148 feet) of the closest
broadband connection, but the group is also experimenting with booster
antennas to extend coverage to between 1 and 4 kilometers.

Stevens hopes that enough volunteers with broadband connections will
invest about $1,000 to hook up their Net feeds to wireless base
stations and booster antennas so that the project can stretch across
the entire city.

So far, the group has attracted about a dozen committed members, and
more than 180 people have subscribed to the group's mailing list.

Stevens said the first three nodes of the network will be up and
running sometime this week. The nodes will cover about a square mile
of East London, which, while one of the poorest parts of the city, is
becoming a hotbed for new-media business.

Stevens, a firm believer in cooperative action, said Consume isn't
just about sharing broadband costs, but is also an attempt to bring
Net access to those who can't afford it.

"We'll put up this data cloud and anyone in the vicinity can tune in,"
he said.

Stevens has no plans to commercialize the project. "There will be
plenty of spin-off opportunities later on. This is the new way of the
Net -- user constructed networks," he said. "We're demonstrating the
potential without outside commercial pressure."

Stevens has been active in cooperative projects for years. He also
founded Backspace, an arts community that provided free Net access to
the homeless and others from a converted warehouse in South London.

"It's a great idea," said Steve Tyler, a director of Mase Integration
and Communications, which is networking hundreds of buildings for
Newham Borough Council, one of London's local authorities, using
essentially the same equipment.

Tyler cautioned, however, that because the network operates in the
unlicensed 2.4 GHz range, there could be interference from other
devices that use the same frequency.

"It's not a problem yet," he said. "But it will probably become a
problem in a year or two. If someone else puts up their own antenna
and it interferes, there's nothing anyone can do about it."

Steven's group also has to grapple with a number of other obstacles.
The nodes of the network require specific software to connect; the
network is purely line-of-sight and won't penetrate trees and houses;
and there could be interference problems with signals bouncing off
buildings.

On the plus side, the group has access to a sophisticated
network-mapping tool called Web Stalker, which was commissioned for
the troubled Millennium Dome project. Web Stalker will generate a 3-D
map of the network to help users find the nearest access point.
Stevens is not alone in his desire to create community-run wireless
networks. Similar efforts are underway in Seattle, Boston and San
Francisco.

In Seattle, Matt Westervelt is trying to coordinate a similar
802.11-standard wireless network in the city's residential Capitol
Hill district.

The plan is to allow free wireless access to Net-connected computers
at home, Westervelt said. He had been a subscriber to Metricom's
Ricochet service, but tired of the monthly charges.

"We're building our own infrastructure," said Westervelt, a systems
administrator for Real Networks. "You shouldn't have to pay a monthly
fee to be on the airwaves. You should be able to do this for free."

Like Stevens, Westervelt has experience jerry-rigging guerrilla
networks. A few years ago he shared a T1 line with his neighbors in
Seattle's Pioneer Square by stringing Ethernet cables through windows
and across alleyways.

Westervelt and his colleagues have been running about half a dozen
independent wireless nodes from apartments in the area since June, but
face the problem of hooking them up into one seamless network.

He said they need more volunteers to fill in the gaps or someone on a
neighboring hill whom they can bounce signals off of. The group also
is toying with the idea of charging users who don't contribute to the
network by running a node.

Seattle Wireless recently linked up with Xlan, a project started by
Greg Daly, an engineering student at the University of Washington who
is designing homemade booster antennae for 802.11 networks.

Daly said his designs will allow broadband-connected users to share
their connections with others up to 20 kilometers (12.42 miles) away
by setting up inexpensive base stations hooked to a booster antenna.

"Right now a lot of people have cable or DSL connections, but people
down the street don't because of distances," he said. "We hope to help
eliminate that."

Daly has designs for a 4-kilometer directional antenna that costs
about $20, and a 20-kilometer directional antenna based on a used
satellite dish. He expects to publish detailed plans for the antennae
on his site within a month.

In Boston and surrounding areas, Guerrilla Net members are creating a
decentralized, wireless alternative to the Internet.

"The purpose is to ensure that the flow of information is not
obstructed, captured, analyzed, modified, or logged," said Brian
Oblivion, a member of computer security site L0pht Industries.

"This requires a networking fabric which lies outside of governments,
commercial Internet service providers, telecommunications companies,
and dubious Internet regulatory committees," he wrote in an email.

Oblivion said that while the project is centered in Boston, it has
"hundreds" of interested parties worldwide, particularly in the United
States and Europe. If there are enough people in a particular
location, they set up a "cell," Oblivion said.

Related Wired Links:

Home Networking's Bitter Brawl
Sep. 15, 2000

DTV: The Return of Rabbit Ears
Aug. 23, 2000

A City With a Broadband Future
Aug. 22, 2000

D.C. Gets the Skinny on Broadband
Jul. 26, 2000

Network Replaces Nosy Neighbors
Jun. 15, 2000

Fast Connection Sans Cables
Mar. 14, 2000

ISPs to FCC: Let My People Flow
Dec. 17, 1999

'US Out of Broadband! Now!'
Aug. 23, 1999

Aussies: Open Access Not Hard
Jun. 28, 1999

AtHome's Medin: 'It's Our Cable'
Jun. 16, 1999

Comcast Seeks MS, AOL Backing
Apr. 30, 1999

Copyright  1994-2000 Wired Digital Inc. All rights reserved.

Molly Hankwitz
Archimedia/Leonardo
Queensland University of Technology
Lecturer/Studio Instructor
School of Visual Arts and School of Architecture
0438 050759 (mobile)
3864 3250 (office at QUT, Tuesdays only)
3846 5457 (office at home)
mailing:
2/60 Brighton Road
Highgate Hill 4101 QLD
Australia

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