Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Getting Ready to Start the Community WiFi Project

I've been obsessed with setting up a Community WiFi network in my home town. The idea is to get people sharing their Internet connections with the community. I'm aiming for a mesh network, personally, although after reviewing other community networks, I recognize that if this takes off, we would eventually need some backhauls to get information from point A to Point B much faster. It would also help cross long distances that the routers aren't equipped to handle.

Today I went down to the hardware store and found an antenna mount that fixes to the house gable for $20. I bought some galvanized 1 inch conduit pipe for a mast. That will have to be cut to a more manageable size. 


Then I climbed up into the attic to check out the situation on how I'm going to run the cable to my mesh router. Fortunately, the mesh router uses PoE, so I only have to worry about running one cable. I did not start on the installation today because I need an outdoor cover for the mesh router; it has been rainy lately. In addition, the outdoor enclosure comes with the PoE adapter. 


I also purchased MissionWiFi.com and set it as the splash page after connecting to the router. 


There are still many concerns about how to best carry out the project. On the one hand, the best way to get buy-in is to have residents buy their own equipment and install it. But, that would mainly work for those who haven't any Internet. If you have your own Internet connection at home, what is your incentive to pay money to share? Altruism is a tough sell. 


The alternative is to make the project more of a business where people pay in. Again, why would you pay in to share your connection unless you get something out of it. 


Obviously, I don't want to charge users for using the WiFi because that sort of makes the project an ISP, giving some expectation of quality of service and speed. The sticker point is that it's a disincentive to donate. 


Under consideration is to have businesses pay in around $200 per year for being on the splash page rotation. This money pays for two routers, one for the business, one for a neighbor. and covers other costs of installation. It's for-profitish. In this model, everybody wins; the business gets publicity to their web page of choice, a neighbor gets a free router, and I get change. 


There is also the difference in when people use Internet service. Businesses will tend to use Internet during working hours. Households will tend to use Internet during the evening hours. 


Of course, it's not set. I think I need to build a team to help me out with the project planning. My biggest hurdle is finding the money to buy the necessary equipment to build the network. I think once enough people get the idea of how it works, a little more buy-in can be expected to the point where it could be second nature to buy your own rooftop WiFi antennas and/or routers. 


Perhaps I'm tilting at windmills. 
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