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Wireless Summit @ Vienna: Day 2

on Fri, 08/13/2010 - 2:38pm

The author is now into his second day at the International Summit for Community Wireless, being held at Tech Gate in Vienna, Austria. This trip was made possible with a generous travel stipend granted to the author by the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative.

Highlighted Talks:

The OLSR-NG Mesh Project - A Status Update & Overview
L. Aaron Kaplan of Funk Feuer
Henning Rogge of FKIE

OLSR, or Optimized Link State Routing, is the algorithm that automagically builds the mesh between WasabiNet antennas.  This presentation explained the background story and how the OLSR-NG project managed to turn OLSR into a highly scalable, very robust mesh routing system which is widely deployed by community wireless networks, industry and academia.

AuthPuppy: a tool to support community models

Geneviève Bastien, of Île sans fil in Montreal,Quebec
Andrews Kofi Nyarkoh, of 1 Village Africa

We developed a new generation of authentication server: AuthPuppy, a modular, configurable, multi-mode authentication server that plays well with third-party applications . By the time of the summit, we hope to have our network at île sans fil in Montreal run on AuthPuppy, with a Wordpress site as captive portals and have some mesh nodes around the network.

We hope that by using AuthPuppy, we can revive our users communities and use the captive portals to encourage discussion and information. And on the technical side, we can stay up to date and adapt to new technologies in the ecosystem.

A Freemium model for sustainable and scalable community networks
Brough Turner, founder of in Boston
Richard MacKinnon, from Austin Wireless in Texas
Nemanja Topovic, from BGWireless in Serbia

Important points:

  • Giving away service (or installing equipment) for free can actually be downside, since users/clients may not have incentive to take you seriously.  This doesn't mean it needs to be a high fee, just non-zero.  Economists describe a 2-side market, where the high-volume service may be given away for free, but with no support offered, while additional, high-value/low-volume services such as directed advertising are offered for a fee.
  • Netblazr plans to grow its network by asking customer to purchase their own nodes, which are expected to sustain 100Mbit, 200Mbit+ in a $100 package within the next few years.  Although the hardware is cheap, letting customers share cost of building out infrastructure helps reduce burden of startup capital required.
    • Startups currently developing 4-radio chipsets (Moores Law says this will soon be 8-radio devices) to watch out for: Qualtenna and Celeno. Their chips may find their way into Ubiquiti access points (for example) within the next few years.
  • Austin Wireless extensively uses social media, in particular by tightly coupling their captive portal with Facebook, and then actively encourages users to post their location on FB, talk about the business they're using.  This helped establish a strong, local advertising channel for Austin Wireless, which it can then resell for revenue.
  • "Founder Fatigue"is becoming common among the community wifi enthusiasts.  It is important to seek sustainable models for deploying your network, and to start that seeking from the first minute.
  • If you have to switch from changing zero $ to charging a small amount, you can only do that once (maybe even twice) in the lifetime of your network, due to psychological eccentricities of how customers perceive pricing.  Indeed, most of your revenue may only come from signing on new customers.

Evening Keynote Talk
Robin Chase, of Meadow Networks and founder of Zipcar, personal blog
Vic Hayes, Senior Research Fellow at the Delft University of Technology, and "Father of Wifi"


Robin's Notable Points:

  • When asking/lobbying/petitioning for gov't fund to build out infrastructure such as a city-wide wireless broadband service, it is essential to demand the gov't use open standard, open source software, and even to the extent feasible, open-source hardware => this is highly conducive to further innovation and entrepreneurship. Silos ultimately stagnate, with no path for future growth.
  • Social Media applications can achieve remarkable results with very minimal start-up costs. Simple example: compare the cost developing and running the portal with the cost of operating the intercontinental hotel network.
  • Since the current fuel tax in the US will be replaced with a usage tax that will be graduated based on congestion (drive private car into crowded area = pay higher tax), a mesh wifi-style network would lend itself readily to letting drivers dynamically retrieve or even update live congestion maps.  This could become a standard feature in all Zipcars, for example.
  • Robin's dream: a collaboratively financed, nation-wide mesh infrastructure.

Vic's Notable Points:

  • Why use wifi?  The global standard was created, which enabled the manufacture to be created at extreme low cost thx to economies of scale.  Also, the industry group Wifi Alliance lent the products credibility.
  • Vic touches on the innovation of spread-spectrum, frequency hopping, and Code-Division Multiple Access (CSM), which were only allowed for civilian use after 1985.
  • Notably ,the original proposal that led to the part 15 rules from the FCC actually called for opening up large sections of the spectrum to frequency hopping / spread spectrum, not just 2.4GHz. During the comment period, many many negative comments were received from the incumbent broadcast industry, which saw that such deregulation would endanger their revenue streams that depended simply on having closed broadcast licenses (called 'warehousing spectrum').  That is, they saw such dereg could engender substantial innovation that would disrupt status quo.
  • The spread spectrum ruling was a present. Otherwise, obtaining spectrum requires long term efforts. Furthermore, spectrum, once obtained, needs to be vigorously defended.
  • Always find a reason that meshes with current political climate, so that your spectrum can continue to exist.
  • Vic's upcoming book: The Innovation Journey of Wifi: The Road Toward Global Success, due out in December 2010.
  • Finally brief mention of pending proposals to extend the current 802.11 standard for Wifi, e.g. 802.11z, 802.11m, 802.11s (dedicated to meshing!), and even White Space.

Evening Excursions

While on the way to a winery (Hueriger in Viennese) in the Spittelau district, we encountered the awesome, Willy Wonka-meets-Steampunk District Heating Plant (Fernwaerme Wien).  This plant was recently remodeled in the style of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who agreed to this unusual venue because of the facility's purpose of useful waste reclamation.  That is, the Fernwarme Wien *** is actually a garbage incineration plant used to generate electricity.

*** Fernwaerme photo credit nacaseven


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