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


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[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
(re-edited
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
connects
computers with ethernet speed without using cables. Via a router computers
on
this local network can also communicate with the internet. The technology is
relatively new. It has been experimented with since the mid nineteen
nineties.
It was introduced as a standard by the Institute of Electrical and
Electronic
Engineering (IEEE) in 1999. The 802.11 standard enabled manufacturers to
build
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
connections.
The technology was initially conceived for the personal use of individuals
and
for organisations. It is licence free, which means that everyone can set up
a
wireless access point without having to ask any authority first.

http://www.ieee.org/portal/index.jsp
http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/802/11/1st_page.html


- Free Networking

During the New Economy boom in the late ninetees Wireless got little
attention
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,
Spain...

http://www.freenetworks.org/
http://www.freenetworks.org/moin/index.cgi/WirelessNetworkingProjects

Most of these initiatives prefer to speak about Free Networks rather than
about
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
build
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
locally
or trans-locally; they promote a supportive and constructive communication
climate within protected online spaces; free networks are not necessarily
free
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
World
Wide Web but with Bulletin Board Systems, in Germany also known as
Mailboxes.
Before the WWW became popular BBS's already attracted communities of users
in
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
the
local loop.  Failed or unfinished telecommunications privatisation resulted
in
a market that is still dominated by the former telephone monopolies. They
control the last mile, the cable that runs into the individual household.
This
makes permanent internet access in Europe still relatively expensive and
also
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
regards
connecting users through ADSL technology, a form of high-speed internet
access
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
and
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.

http://consume.net/
http://www.free2air.org/

- 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
a
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
all
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
opening
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
walled
garden of their own network.

http://youarehere.metamute.com/twiki/bin/view/Home/YouAreHere

- Make a Mesh

Some free networks such as Consume.net in London have wider ambitions than
only
the creation of individual Access Points. Consume aims at establishing
wireless
links between individual AP's, a wireless meshed network that would cover
large
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
much
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
and
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.

http://www.free2air.org/?op=displaystory;sid=2002/2/20/213511/252
http://www.ambienttv.net/index_frame.html

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

Reports, photos, etc.
http://bootlab.org/berlon/

- War Chalking vs. Cartography

Wireless free networks are a great thing - if you can find them. Recently
there
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
the
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
access
points. Chalk on pavement is washed a ways quickly by the next rain or
street
cleaning services. Chalking on walls is illegal, like graffiti.

More helpful is a number of different ways of wireless cartography. Consume
has
a node database, where people who have created an access point can give
their
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
points
and also information on meshed networks - wireless connections between
access
points - and offers node descriptions in a wiki.

http://consume.net/nodedb.php
http://www.nodedb.com/
http://www.nodedb.com/active/europe/at/vienna/?
http://www.nodedb.com/unitedstates/ny/newyork/?


These projects have two disadvantages: they depend on users creating their
own
entry into a database. This can lead to distortions. For instance, nodedeb
has,
at the time of writing no single entry for London, even so there are many
nodes
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
overcome
those limits to wireless mapping. He tries to map the actual size and shape
of
signal emission from a single node and, with a combination of GPS,
geographical
information systems, streetmaps, areal photography and special software,
tries
to visualise the real shape of a data cloud, which he calls "air shadow".
This
type of cartography gives a much more reliable information about where a
signal
can actually be picked up. It also takes out the "war" of mobile mapping,
the
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
much
more useful way of mapping the electrosphere in an area that could benefit
many
user groups in different ways and has nothing to do with "hacking"

http://www.free2air.org/?op=section;section=eastendnet
http://www.ittc.ku.edu/wlan/
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1639661.stm


- Different Approaches

Different wireless freenets in different cities tend to follow a very
different
approach. NYCwireless for instance focusses on providing free public
wireless
internet service to mobile users in public spaces throughout the New York
City
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
cheap
and fast access.

http://www.nycwireless.net/
http://consume.net

- Commercial Interest

Since about a year or so mainstream media organisations started to report
about
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
reporting
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
UMTS
technology, the next generation of mobile phone networks. Providers had to
pay
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
free
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
than
the commercial race is the self-sustained growth of free networks and the
community enhancing applications and services that are being built on their
shoulders.

- Parallel (Gift) Economies

Shu Lea Cheangs "Rich Air" project recently conducted in New York presented
a
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
illustrates
a number of benefits to be gained from establishing systems that exist
outside
capitalist markets and facilitate free exchange in gift economies.

http://www.rich-air.com/

- 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
and
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
potential
has hardly been tapped into.

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