Community Wireless Networking

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Two types of Community Wireless Networking

Magnus Lawrie:

"Two types of Wireless Network have been adopted by CWNs. Infrastructure mode relies on static ariels to share bandwidth to connecting client computers with management of the network on a separate centralized administrative layer. Ad-hoc wireless networks may also rely on a fixed infrastructure. Typically they are created between many communicating mobile devices (or ’nodes’). Ad-hoc wireless networks are said to be self-healing: If a node fails, data is automatically re-routed to find the shortest possible path between two end points.

* in Denmark is among the largest CWNs in the world).

250 volunteer built radio stations share fast internet connections with over 5000 remote rural households in an area of 3360 sq/km (Neilsen, 2007, p.3).

The Djursland peninsula, extending East from Jutland, is encircled by a fibre-optic backbone. At the end of the 1990s, despite the proximity of this communications ’trunk road’, most Djursland homes fell into the ’last mile’ of connectivity, where broadband was technically inoperable. For incumbent telecom providers, extending coverage was financially unjustifiable - market failure had occurred. By now Djursland had been in economic decline for some years. The closure in 1998 of Djursland’s only regional newspaper was the motivation to set up an internet information portal. Boevl, the computer enthusiasts’ group who took up this challenge had engaged in socially-active projects since 1992. With grant aid they had established a free access computer workshop, undertaken computer recycling and instigated fifteen similar projects in Lithuania and Kazakhstan. By practical steps of widening access to information and services, Boevl developed their vision of the ICT-Society in Djursland and from January 2001, worked with a decision making board towards the ideal of ”lightning fast internet access for a fixed price all over Djursland” (Neilsen, 2007, p.7). A phased development programme followed, with the pilot project expected to receive EU support. However, an obscure funding process resulted in the ruling that (even in the absence of competition) government intervention in the market was not allowed. As the options for external support dwindled, by increments Djursland’s network - built on DIY pragmatism more than Free Software idealism - became self-sustaining.

Through economies of scale and hobbyist-led technical innovations costs reduced, whilst individuals worked to greatly expand the network. Members of provided themselves fast internet access, at one-third of the subscriber fees in more ’economically viable’ urban areas.

* Freifunk:

Freifunk was established in Berlin in 2002 to create independent, community-based, non-commercial, open and uncensored data networks (Freifunk, 2004). Freifunk has done this using wireless technology, operating on unlicensed segments of the radio spectrum. Technical efforts have centred on adapting OpenWRT – Free Software run on consumer wireless routers.

The resulting ’firmware’, developed by a small team of volunteers, manages bandwidth allocation in order to maintain an equal flow of data throughout a wireless network; Regardless of network size, traffic, or the relative locations of two communicating points, data will be exchanged with equal priority.

A flexible ’mesh’ networking arrangement (many nodes connecting to many neighbour nodes) invests control of the network in the end devices, not an additional layer. By sharing technology and experiences, several Freifunk networks were established in Berlin. These were connected through wireless links known as the Berlin Backbone (BBB). Although the linked networks continued to operate independently, the BBB could be seen as an administrative layer which takes control away from end devices, whilst enhanced possibilities for local audio and video applications such as free radio, internet telephony and webTV advance the case for uncensored data and net neutrality. Freifunk’s social aim has been to strengthen existing organization and to develop e-democracy and grass roots structures appropriate to the digital era. Balances between social and technical participation in Freifunk networks is achieved by the absence of privileged nodes; horizontalism remains built in the network, whilst the hobbyist aspect of the organization keeps the network free to use and free of commercial interests. A diversity of participants and agendas is maintained through router firmware designed to put control with users." (