Free2Air

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Free2Air is the longest existing open Wireless Commons in Europe, located in London's East End.

URL = http://www.free2air.org/

Years of uninterrupted operation of the Free2air open node is proof that free public-access wireless networks can exist.


Description

By Armin Medosch at http://theoriebild.ung.at/view/Main/FreeWavelength

"London's East End. This part of the city is home to Free2air (http://www.free2air.org), an open wireless network node that was created around 1999 independently of Consume and which can claim to be the oldest free and open wireless network node in Europe. In the winter of 2001/2002, the Consume concept was particularly virulent. Loosely united by the ideas of Consume, but in many respects under their own steam, Free2air, the artists of AmbientTV.net (http://www.ambienttv.net), Mute magazine's YouAreHere project (http://www.metamute.com) and a number of other individuals and groups developed the project of building a wireless backbone for the East End. Backbone is the term used for a network whose function is to bridge large distances and to help connect other networks. In the East End, the idea was to create a wireless backbone in the shape of an irregular rectangle to link the main locations - between Limehouse Town Hall in the southeast, Brick Lane in the southwest, Shoreditch/Hoxton in the northwest and London Fields in the northeast. This area is home to many artist's studios, New Media companies, shared office spaces, cooperatives etc., making it potentially fertile ground for Free Networks. The idea with East End Net was to demonstrate the feasibility of the Consume concept on a large scale and to enable newcomers to link up with a functioning network.

An inconspicuous house at the end of Hackney Road, between shops selling cheap overseas phone calls and halal fried Chicken, houses the base of Free2air. For years, a laptop named Groundzero and an omnidirectional antenna on the roof of the building have been ensuring the existence of a friendly data cloud that provides the whole of the surrounding area with connectivity. The credit for this facility goes to the Australian Adam Burns, also known as Vortex. Having moved to London some years ago, initially working in the IT industry as a security advisor to a bank, he began experimenting with wireless networks as early as 1999. His interest in Free Networks goes further back, stemming from the days of the mailbox and early Internet scenes in Australia. Using wireless networks based on the 802.11 standard, Vortex saw the possibility of reviving these old ideas. The name Free2Air is also a political statement (cf. Albert 2003).

Free2air is a contentious name, but one that I have chosen to use. Basically it has a dual meaning. Firstly, once you have established such a network the cost of information travel is free. It's not a totally free service to establish, you need to buy hardware, you need computer expertise, and so on. But the ongoing costs are minimal. And secondly, what I liked about it is the plans for a distributed, open, public access network, getting rid of the idea of a central ISP. In the context of the Internet today, there is a strong global tendency towards control of content. How does something get "air". So there is a double meaning to Free2air: it also means you are free to air your opinion." (Burns 2003)

Free2air is designed as an open network for public use. As a security expert, Adam Burns places particular emphasis on the political implications of the configuration of a network. Free2air uses none of the methods for the authentication or registration of users that are provided for in the wireless network standard. Free2air is as free as air in the truest sense of the word. Anyone with the right kind of "nose" can sniff out access to Free2air for themselves. No password, no registration.

Years of uninterrupted operation of the Free2air open node is proof that free public-access wireless networks can exist." (http://theoriebild.ung.at/view/Main/FreeWavelength)


More Information

See our entry on the Free Networks Movement

The related project, Consume in London; Freifunk) in Berlin