Chapter 1. Wireless Community Networks

A year is an eternity in networking.


In the time since the first edition of this book was published, millions of wireless networking components have shipped into the eagerly waiting hands of consumers. We've seen consumer-grade wireless equipment prices fall dramatically as more and more manufacturers integrate wireless into their own products. Articles about various aspects of wireless networking have made international news, including strange tales of WarChalking, WarDriving, and Pringles can-wielding Secret Service agents (as reported at Wireless access is now available in many coffeehouses, parks, schools, offices, and homes.

What is it about wireless networking that has so many people worked into such a frenzy? I believe that people's fascination with wireless is simple to understand. Wireless data networking is probably the most "magical" technology to evolve in recent times. Think of it: by installing an inexpensive PC card, your laptop can suddenly send and receive data at a very high speed, to anyone in range, even through walls! Many laptops have dispensed with the PC card altogether, and seem to magically just "be" online. Combined with the power of the Internet, your tiny battery-powered computer can now communicate globally, wherever an otherwise invisible wireless network happens to exist. More than any other networking technology, people just think it's cool to use wireless (never mind that it is extremely useful, cheap, and can do things that wired networks will never be able to do).

In the past year and a half, we have also seen more than a few wireless start-ups come and go. Wireless networking may be cheap and easy for the individual, but it has certainly proven to be far from a "slam-dunk" business for would-be wireless ISPs. In the same time period, the project list at PersonalTelco (available on their site at has grown to five times the size, now listing over 250 active community networking efforts. While public wireless networks haven't yet proven to be a stunning commercial success, something is certainly happening with wireless. This book is an exploration of many aspects of that something.