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On municipal WiFi

2011-06-30 06:34:57.75567+00 by Dan Lyke 1 comments

Note written to John Maher, aka "Petaluma Pete", and Jaimey Walking-Bear, on the topic of a more ubiquitous WiFi setup in Petaluma. Continued in the comments.

comments in descending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2011-06-30 06:35:03.376214+00 by: Dan Lyke

Here, as I see it, are ways forward with WiFi:

  1. Try to get Sonic.net to restore their WiFi. I doubt that'll happen. There's no business case to be made for them using it to upsell to WiFi subscriptions. 3G is everywhere, and, frankly, when I walk around reading documentation on my iPad I rarely have to get more than a block or so before I run into an open network. Might be a case to be made that they could justify keeping the in-place equipment running for the sake of advertising, but since they aren't bothering to keep the current WiFi running for that purpose it seems unlikely.
  2. Get the city to deploy WiFi. Unlikely due to budgetary (and possible regulatory?) issues.
  3. Get the PDA to map existing WiFi providers, set up some sort of common icon to denote WiFi availability, etc. Jaimey thought the map Tim was going to show us on this was a start on that.
  4. Band merchants together to set up additional WiFi access points. Sonic.net's commercial Fusion product runs $49.95+taxes and fees per month, basic routers are cheap.
  5. Build #4 into a mesh network of some by sort. It looks like if we could get a bunch of people to strategically place routers with meshing firmware[1]. Looks like for a hundred bucks a node we'd have to set up a reasonable density of routers (<150' in between routers, although indoor/outdoor issues may confound that), and then get a few Fusion lines to tie this to the Internet. Might not work for Walnut Park, might work for downtown.

#5 is an experiment, and there are commercial solutions providers for this, but they're expensive. Buying the hardware and experimenting may or may not work. http://www.open-mesh.com dual-band hardware is getting some mediocre reviews but the single-band routers may work better (and are cheaper and can be purchased with exterior enclosures), there's a device called the "Mesh Potato", but it seems like the most likely paths involve packages called Robin-Mesh or B.A.T.M.A.N. running on commodity hardware like the Linksys WRT54G (I have one for playing with this sort of thing) or Open-Mesh single band routers.

#3 seems totally doable right now. I'm not a retail store owner, but if I were a potential PDA member I'd think that that's *exactly* the sort of thing they should be doing.

#4 probably needs to be augmented with #5, if we have a couple of merchants interested in such a thing, maybe one who already provides free WiFi to customers, I'd be willing to toss in a hundred bucks to experiment with this. With a few hundred bucks we could build a small mesh.

If I can get one or two other tech savvy people wanting to play (double plus bonus points if they're in range of my house), I'm all over #5.

Additional thing to contemplate re any of these: What happens the first time someone uses such a network for anonymity?

Let's start the dialog!