Wireless Community HowTo
This document is intended as a starting for people who intend to start up a Wireless Community Network in their neighbourhood.
Purpose/Benefit of Wireless Community Networks
Wireless Community Networks (WCNs) provide broadband access to people who have no broadband access. There are people who cannot afford monthly recurring fees of € 20-30 and/or cannot enter long-term contracts. DSL/Cable is not available in 100% of all buildings, either because the last mile is already crowded with high bandwidth DSL, there are no free copper wires, there's no coax in the neighbourhood, ...
Getting in touch with other people - let others know you exist
The biggest problem if you start your network from zero is to attract people who want exactly the same thing - start a WCN in your neighbourhood. So, you have to do some "Public Relations" work from the very beginning of your project. Put up a website (or a Wiki), leave your contact details. Then, get in touch with people who might be interested in your project. Linux User Groups, Amateur Radio associations, CS/EE student societies, community radio stations... are a good starting point.
In most legislations, there's an "official" way for people with similar interests to organize. Choose what's most appropriate for you:
- Non-profit Inc. in the US
- Association (EU, "Verein" in the German speaking area)
Most technical aspects of WCNs are covered in zillions of Wikis, mailing list archives, magazine articles, blogs, books... However, there's always certain implicit knowledge that's shared among the members of WCNs that you'll only get hold of when meeting face to face. If you're an individual or a small group of people who wants to start a WCN, get in touch with similar communities in your vicinity. There are events (FIXME summit, CCC, ...) where you can meet folks from around the globe. We share our knowledge, just ask :-).
The cost of setting up a mesh node with a decent rooftop or balcony install is around € 125,- (12/2006). That includes a decent wireless router like a Linksys WRT54GL, an external panel antenna with decent gain, cabling, screws etc. To be really beneficial to the whole network, you should double that amount, add a second router on a separate channel, eventually with an omnidirectional antenna, to cover your neighbourhood. To make it short: Most of the funding will have to come from node owners themselves, but at least in Western Europe, the amount you have to invest for a decent node is equivalent to a 1 year broadband subscription with an ISP.
It might be hard to get funding for a "social project". There are some other ways to get funding. If you have technical folks who are interested in R&D work, have them participate in the development and advancement of mesh routing protocols. Have folks produce documentation (like this one), write scientific papers and diploma thesis on the subject. If you're brave, apply for research grants with the appropriate institutions in your area. If you're in touch with communities from other countries, think about EU projects. In most legislations, donations to research institutions are tax deductible.
Competition with commercial ISPs?
Wireless Community Networks are by no means intended to compete with commercial ISPs. Usually, there are no participation fees. Thats the benefit. On the other hand, there's no SLA, there's no call center you can complain about your connection being down, and there are no technicians that will come and fix your CPE for a fee. ISPs cover FIXME 95% of the population in Austria with broadband. Community networks are aimed at the remaining 5%. Upstream connections to the Internet have to be bought from commercial ISPs anyway, so Wireless Community Networks increase their growth. In short: Commercial ISPs, we're not your competition, we're your customers