8.1 Seattle Wireless

Founders: Matt Westervelt and Ken Caruso
Location: Seattle, Washington
Project Started: June 2000
URL: http://www.seattlewireless.net/

Seattle Wireless has taken on one of the most ambitious projects of any community group: they intend to build a fully routed Metropolitan Area Network, independent of any commercial service provider. To this end, they are setting up their own top-level DNS domains, allocating private IP addresses, setting up backbone nodes, and managing the rollout of the network so that any wireless node will be able to reach any other without ever passing packets over a commercial network. As any backbone node is able to provide Internet gateway services, wireless clients can also access the Internet regardless of where they may physically be located in the city.

Because the entire wireless network doesn't ever rely on the wire, it keeps the operating cost of the network fixed, and gives it the capability to provide valuable communication services in the event of a major disaster (Seattle isn't exactly known for its stability, in many ways). Seattle has some unique geographical advantages that may help this approach: relatively few trees, many tall buildings, rolling hills, and a high concentration of technically capable alpha geeks. I'm sure the coffee doesn't hurt, either.

Their web site provides a terrific wealth of information, from network routing theory to antenna design. The Seattle Wireless web site was launched in September 2000. Since then, they have been mentioned or featured in dozens of publications, ranging from Wired magazine to Le Monde, a major newspaper in France. They also have a huge mailing list following and hold regular meetings. They are making things happen in the Great Northwest.

8.1.1 Bay Area Wireless Users Group (BAWUG)

Founders: Matt Peterson, Cliff Skolnick, and Tim Pozar
Location: San Francisco Bay area
Project started: September 2000
URL: http://www.bawug.org/

With the understanding that wireless access can significantly reduce the cost of Internet access while making it easier to share resources, BWUG was founded to promote wireless use for the greater San Francisco Bay area. They hold bimonthly meetings to pool knowledge and educate people about a variety of wireless topics. While their motto is "we don't build networks," they do attract a large number of participants. The BAWUG mailing list currently has nearly 2000 subscribers, and meetings draw an average of 40 people.

The BAWUG attracts a wide range of interested parties, from VCs and start-ups to HAMs, sysadmins, activists, and the general public. Many groups that do build networks have spun off from BAWUG, including sfwireless.net, sflan.com, and bawrn.org. BAWUG itself also worked with FreeNetworks.org to build the network at the 2002 ApacheCon.

The BAWUG grew out of PlayaNet, the free 802.11b network of Burning Man (see http://www.playanet.org/ and http://www.burningman.com/ for details). Since a huge percentage of Burning Man attendees are from San Francisco, it was only natural that the 10-day-a-year PlayaNet geeks would want something to work on for the other 355.

If you're ever in the SF Bay area, I highly recommend attending a meeting. They have often hosted an interesting collection of speakers, ranging from wireless industry jockeys to Internet startups to hardcore RF hacks. It has been well worth the two-hour drive from Sebastopol each time our group has attended.

8.1.2 PersonalTelco

Founder: Adam Shand
Location: Portland, Oregon
Project started: November 2000
URL: http://www.personaltelco.net/

PersonalTelco's mission statement is: "To promote and build public wireless networks through community support and education."

PersonalTelco has been very active in the Portland area since the end of 2000. Their members provide about 80 hot spots throughout the Portland area, and their mailing lists reach about 700 interested people. PersonalTelco's regular monthly meetings draw about 50 people on average.

The PersonalTelco Project is incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, allowing them to accept tax-deductible donations to put toward projects for the public good. They also host the definitive community networking project list (with over 250+ projects listed at the time of this writing) at http://www.personaltelco.net/index.cgi/WirelessCommunities.

In June of 2001, PersonalTelco hosted the first ever Wireless Community Networking summit. Organizers from Seattle, New York, British Columbia, Portland, San Francisco Bay, and Sebastopol were there. We had a very productive couple of days, covering divergent topics such as antenna design, network layout, the FCC, and "catch and release" captive portals. There was a tremendous energy and goodwill between the groups, as we all realized we were in this experiment together.

8.1.3 NYCwireless

Founders: Terry Schmidt, Anthony Townsend, Ben Serebin, Jacob Farkas, and Dustin Goodwin
Location: New York City
Project started: May 2001
URL: http://nycwireless.net/

NYCwireless has four major goals:

  1. Provide public hotspots, especially at parks and independent coffee shops

  2. Advocate the use of wireless technology, particularly consumer-owned, unlicensed, low-cost equipment

  3. Educate the public about wireless technology issues, including installation, tinkering, security, and applications

  4. Provide emergency communications that don't depend on existing infrastructure

In order to better serve their first goal (providing hotspots), NYCwireless contracts with a for-profit company (Cloud Networks, Inc.), which is staffed by some of NYCwireless's founding members. This helps to allow NYCwireless itself to focus on education and advocacy, and not get bogged down in projects that its volunteer members cannot devote time and resources to complete. Cloud Networks gives deep discounts for NYCwireless projects (anywhere from 50-100% depending on available external funding), which helps keep projects both active and well-supplied.

NYCwireless has over 100 active nodes throughout New York City. The Bryant Park Wireless Network is their flagship node; it averaged in excess of 50 users per day during the summer of 2002. They expect that number to double next summer. They also helped provide emergency communications in the days following 9/11/01, quickly assembling free access nodes in areas that had no other telecommunication facilities available.

Their main strategy has been to partner with local government and quasi-governmental neighborhood associations to help bring about their goals. Local government sees value in community-based wireless and helps provide the resources that make many NYCwireless projects possible.

8.1.4 Houston Wireless

Founders: Steven Byrnes, Barrett Canon, and Matthew Solnik
Location: Houston, Texas
Project started: Summer 2001
URL: http://www.houstonwireless.org/

Also known as the Houston Wireless Users Group, Houston Wireless supports the following primary goals:

  1. Promote pervasive, high-speed wireless access in urban and suburban areas. While the telcos are slowly rolling out new technologies, third-generation wireless (3G) is realistically still years away. Houston Wireless uses affordable technology that is here now, which makes it easier for the average person to get involved in wireless networking.

  2. Research and experiment with networking protocols using wireless (e.g., IPsec, Mobile IP, and IPv6).

  3. Experiment with new wireless technologies (e.g., 802.11a, 802.11g, and UWB).

  4. To have fun. :-)

Houston Wireless has about 30 nodes online and over 100 people on their various mailing lists. They sponsor active monthly meetings (averaging about 25 people at the time of this writing).