Nettime mailing list archives

[rohrpost] Fw: <nettime> Wireless Culture
Boris Ewenstein on Tue, 5 Nov 2002 14:00:04 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[rohrpost] Fw: <nettime> Wireless Culture

----- Original Message -----
From: Armin Medosch
To: nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net
Sent: Donnerstag, 31. Oktober 2002 11:44
Subject: <nettime> Wireless Culture

Wireless Culture

Presentation for Urban Drift www.urbandrift.org, Berlin 10th of Oct. 2002
Oct 30th)

by Armin Medosch
armin {AT} easynet.co.uk

Table of Content

- Explanation of Basics of Technology
- Free Networking
- Trip The Loop
- Build Community
- Make a Mesh
- DIY Power
- War Chalking vs. Cartography
- Different Approaches
- Commercial Interest
- Parallel (Gift) Economies
- Conclusions

- Explanation of Basics of Technology

A Wireless Local Area Network, also known as WLAN, Wi-Fi and Airport on
Macintosh computers, makes it possible to set up a local network that
computers with ethernet speed without using cables. Via a router computers
this local network can also communicate with the internet. The technology is
relatively new. It has been experimented with since the mid nineteen
It was introduced as a standard by the Institute of Electrical and
Engineering (IEEE) in 1999. The 802.11 standard enabled manufacturers to
hardware that would be compatible across different platforms in terms of
hardware and software.

The most commonly used standard is 802.11b which uses frequencies in the 2.4
Gigahrtz band for the transmission of data and achieves speeds of 2 to 11
Mbits/sec, which is considerably faster than most peoples internet
The technology was initially conceived for the personal use of individuals
for organisations. It is licence free, which means that everyone can set up
wireless access point without having to ask any authority first.


- Free Networking

During the New Economy boom in the late ninetees Wireless got little
outside geek communities. At the same time free network enthusiasts started
already to use the technology to build community networks and open access
points. This movement started simultaneously in cities in highly developed
industrialized countries such es the UK, Germany, United States, Australia,


Most of these initiatives prefer to speak about Free Networks rather than
Wavelan. Wavelan is just the technology of choice at this point in time, but
the free network idea is the philosophy behind it. Free Networks try to
largely independent infrastructures for networked communications by
interconnecting small access providers. Their model of growth is based on
self-organisation - no single organisation owns the whole network; each
individual node is self-managed by the user communities who run it; these
communities are defined by shared interests and constituate themselves
or trans-locally; they promote a supportive and constructive communication
climate within protected online spaces; free networks are not necessarily
in the sense that no money has to be paid but because of their autonomy from
state institutions and large corporations.

Free Networks found their best expression not with the supposedly global
Wide Web but with Bulletin Board Systems, in Germany also known as
Before the WWW became popular BBS's already attracted communities of users
numbers of tens or hundreds of thousands. Some of them described themselves
also as citizen networks or digital cities. Because their philosophy did not
suit the agenda of the dotcom era their success was overshadowed by the
commercial boom around the WWW. After the crash and facilitated by Wavelan
technology free networks are now having a strong renaissance.

- Trip The Loop

A most basic function that makes wavelan attractive is its ability to trip
local loop.  Failed or unfinished telecommunications privatisation resulted
a market that is still dominated by the former telephone monopolies. They
control the last mile, the cable that runs into the individual household.
makes permanent internet access in Europe still relatively expensive and
establishes large telcos and a few mass market providers such as AOL as
gatekeepers who control access to networked communications also in terms of
policiy. They also enjoy a monopoly like situation in many countries as
connecting users through ADSL technology, a form of high-speed internet
that uses standard telephone copper cables. With markets in a deep recession
many high speed networks based on fibre optics are lying unused.  These
conditions together have hampered the more democratic use of the internet
the spread of broadband connections with richer and more interactive
audio-visual services.

With wavelan users who live in geographic proximity can hire together a
high-speed connection to the internet and share the cost, which makes it
significantly cheaper.  They also by-pass the controlling ambitions and
restrictive policies of large telcos and access providers.


- Build Community

Wavelan re-introduces locality into networked communications. Setting up an
access point and making it accessible for other people helps to create
awareness of who lives or works in a certain area. The access point becomes
virtual home that facilitates the creation of services targeted at specific
needs of these communities.  This can find many expressions, from ideas for
small businesses to very small media and filesharing applications. Because
computers who use the same node can communicate with each other on ethernet
speed, this is not only fast but can also be very simple, as simple as
a section of ones own harddisk for communal use.  Users don't have to pass
through the uncertain environment of the internet but remain within the
garden of their own network.


- Make a Mesh

Some free networks such as Consume.net in London have wider ambitions than
the creation of individual Access Points. Consume aims at establishing
links between individual AP's, a wireless meshed network that would cover
parts of a city. The benefits of community building and associated services
which exist within the user group of one Access Points get extended to a
larger number of participants who would still remain within one network,
by-passing the internet and forming various interconnected data clouds.

- DIY Power

Many free networks are created in a Do-It-Yourself spirit. Although more and
more packages of commercial hard- and software become available and
increasingly affordable, free networkers prefer to build their own stuff,
from router to antenna to access point configuration. In London this happens
with regularly held wavelan workshops, also called clinics, where wireless
enthusiasts, from the interested newcomer to experienced  techie come
together to ask questions, share knowledge, show each other things they have
made and discuss what they plan for the future.

The workshops contribute to the social cohesion within wireless communities
facilitate de-centralized growth of free networks without centralized
governance.  Peopel teach each other the How-To's and the What-For's of
wireless free networks.


On Oct. 12th and 13th wireless free networkers met at bootlab Berlin for
BERLON, the Berlin London Wireless Culture Workshop. Practical work on
and nodebuilding and talks about an agreement for wireless free networking
held, the so called Pico Peering Agreement, which should form the basis for
bottom-up model of peering agreements between free networks but also define
interface to commercial providers. With free networkers from Denmark and
also present, this formed an attempt to broaden international collaboration
the basis of the workshop model.

Reports, photos, etc.

- War Chalking vs. Cartography

Wireless free networks are a great thing - if you can find them. Recently
was much media hype about so called war chalking. The idea is that someone
walks, drives or peddalls around with a mobile computer device and tries to
find wireless access points. If one is found a sign is made with chalk on
pavement, whereby different shapes signify different types of networks, open
and closed ones for instance. The idea was given much media publicity but is
almost certainly completely useless in helping people to actually find
points. Chalk on pavement is washed a ways quickly by the next rain or
cleaning services. Chalking on walls is illegal, like graffiti.

More helpful is a number of different ways of wireless cartography. Consume
a node database, where people who have created an access point can give
coordinates and a node description, which literally puts them on a map, an
interface for web-investigation on location based information about wireless
access points. The Australian based project nodedb tries to provide mapping
services on a worldwide basis. It links streetmaps with wireless acces
and also information on meshed networks - wireless connections between
points - and offers node descriptions in a wiki.


These projects have two disadvantages: they depend on users creating their
entry into a database. This can lead to distortions. For instance, nodedeb
at the time of writing no single entry for London, even so there are many
on the consume map. The second problem is that the maps show where access
points are, but not how far the signal that they emit actually goes. This
depends on many factors, such as urban topography, signal strength, type of
antenna used.

vortex from free2air.org is working on an advanced research project to
those limits to wireless mapping. He tries to map the actual size and shape
signal emission from a single node and, with a combination of GPS,
information systems, streetmaps, areal photography and special software,
to visualise the real shape of a data cloud, which he calls "air shadow".
type of cartography gives a much more reliable information about where a
can actually be picked up. It also takes out the "war" of mobile mapping,
much hyped "war driving" as which mobile mapping is usually described in the
media, bringing it into realm of hacker type activities. "air shadow" is a
more useful way of mapping the electrosphere in an area that could benefit
user groups in different ways and has nothing to do with "hacking"


- Different Approaches

Different wireless freenets in different cities tend to follow a very
approach. NYCwireless for instance focusses on providing free public
internet service to mobile users in public spaces throughout the New York
area.  Consume in London focusses more on creating a wireless mesh and
promoting free network ideas of self-management of nodes, knowledge transfer
and community building. Other projects work closely together with public
institutions such as local councils and educational institutions. Wireless
projects in rural areas try to attack the problem that telco providers have
failed them alltogether and that only self help will enable them to get
and fast access.


- Commercial Interest

Since about a year or so mainstream media organisations started to report
wavelan activities, at first mostly on a hostile note, pointing out the
vulnerability of wireless networks for "war driving" hackers. Since then the
tone has changed and wireless community networks got some favourable
in media such as The Guardian, BBC and Der Spiegel. The publicity around
grassroots movements of free networkers has also woken up the industry. Some
telco providers and analysts fear that wavelan undermines 3G, in Germany
technology, the next generation of mobile phone networks. Providers had to
huge sums to governments to get a licence to operate a 3G network. Now they
struggle to finance the building of network infrastructures, while licence
grassroots networks florish. Mobile phone masts for 3G on nearly every tall
building create unprecedent levels of electrosmog which more and more people
fear have effects on health and wellbeing. My personal opinion about
competitive rivalry between wavelan and G3/UMTS is that it does not really
matter. Technologies will become more complementary, combinations of 3G and
wavelan will be built into one and the same mobile devices. More important
the commercial race is the self-sustained growth of free networks and the
community enhancing applications and services that are being built on their

- Parallel (Gift) Economies

Shu Lea Cheangs "Rich Air" project recently conducted in New York presented
model for the use of wavelan for trading of cultural goods in a money free
barter economy. Inspired by the Argentinian truque clubs, Rich Air
a number of benefits to be gained from establishing systems that exist
capitalist markets and facilitate free exchange in gift economies.


- Conclusions

Free Networks are the antidot to dot-com depression and internet loneliness.
They bring people together in the virtual and the real world, create a buzz
mobilize fresh energies in people to participate in communal activities. The
motivation to do so is not really altruistic, which is a common
misunderstanding. Maybe there will always be some people who only want to be
freeloaders. But for the majority of those involved in free networking the
result is that they get much more out of it than what they give. As in other
gift economies such as free/open slource software development people benefit
from the multiplication of individual efforts. Each one gives something gets
something back from the community at large. On a social and economic level
there are obvious benefits for regeneration in deprived inner city and rural
areas. The existence of wireless access points makes an area more attractive
and, in connection with imaginative projects in cartography and application
building, will develop new business ideas, social and cultural projects. The
future of wireless free networks can not be foretold but so far their
has hardly been tapped into.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net

rohrpost - deutschsprachige Liste zur Kultur digitaler Medien und Netze
Archiv: http://www.nettime.org/rohrpost http://post.openoffice.de/pipermail/rohrpost/
Ent/Subskribieren: http://post.openoffice.de/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/rohrpost/