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The Internet

Wireless Freenets As The Parasitic Grid 375

Posted by timothy
from the pejorative-terms dept.
Lester67 writes: "Infoworld has a pretty cool article on the "the Parasitic Grid," which is basically people (mainly in large cities) opening up their high-speed access through 802.11b to anyone that wants to use it, and how it may threaten telecom profits. One guy has a pretty interesting use for a Pringles(tm) can too (but only after you've removed your hand)." This article ties together several of the recent stories on free-for-all community networking, and fits in nicely with the recent post on bridging networks with 802.11b.
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Wireless Freenets As The Parasitic Grid

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  • What kind of chip do you have in there?
  • I mean, wouldn't they interfere with each other? Would you sit down and reboot in order to DHCP an address? When you walk around, would have to reboot periodically as you went to another station?

    I mean, most of the complexity of the cellular system is "handing off" in a relatively seamless way.

    I don't think the telecoms have much to worry about.

    • by echo (735)
      You must run windows. There are OSes where you don't have to reboot in order to get a new IP address.
    • by mindstrm (20013)
      1) You don't need to reboot to get a new address.
      2) This is more about being able to plop down somewhere and use the net, not about driving around in your car. If it were, read up on mobile-IP and such.
    • A lot of companies are working on support for mobile IP and mobile layer 2. It won't be long until the handoffs are seamless to the IP layer. It will require a mobile IP aware router in a couple of places, but that's not that big of a deal. As for the the 802.11 handoffs, you said that the cellular system handles handoffs (obviously). It shouldn't be that large of an undertaking to apply similar technologies to 802.11. In the end it just comes down to which access point has higher signal strength. You tell your current access point to tell your router to switch the new access point. Listen on both for a short period to collect stray packets, then switch entirley over to the new access point. At least I think this is how Mobile IP works...
  • Matt Westervelt, one of the originators of what he likes to call a "symbiotic grid" rather than a parasitic one.

    There ya go. What I do with the bandwidth on my T-1 is my business. If I choose to give it away, that's my business. There's nothing "parasitic" about it.

    1Alpha7

    • Re:Parasitic?!? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by quartz (64169) <shadowman@mylaptop.com> on Monday August 27, 2001 @01:29PM (#2221965) Homepage
      From the article: Sharing a cable modem or a DSL line might annoy some folks [broadband providers], but it's probably legal[...]

      Something tells me it won't stay legal for a very long time. Wait till there's enough of those guys to seriously annoy the big providers, and the watch them buy up some more laws...
      • Wait till there's enough of those guys to seriously annoy the big providers, and the watch them buy up some more laws...


        No laws are needed, just another clause in the contract.
      • They don't have to make laws, they just have to make AUPs. For the $40 a month crowd, there are probably already provisions in the AUP about sharing access. Mainly that you're not allowed to do it. Once you get up into the neighborhood of $200 a month for your internet service, those AUP provisions really loosen up. When you get up into the $1000 a month range for your internet access, you can pretty much do anything you want.
  • Parasitic? (Score:1, Troll)

    by sulli (195030)
    What a flamebait headline. Kind of surprising for InfoWorld - usually they try just a little to sound pro-consumer. Maybe Ed Foster was on vacation?
  • a nice perk (Score:3, Interesting)

    by caseydk (203763) on Monday August 27, 2001 @01:18PM (#2221894) Homepage Journal
    Imagine if apartment complexes began offering this as a simple perk to residence... Yes, we'll let you pay an additional 10/month to rent this card that will allow your computer to have wireless internet access...

    Then you need a few techies to be willing to help set up the system... i know that i would be willing to accept a modest rent decrease in order to help supply some of the basic setup... for the long term, another solution would be required, but it's a nice way to start...

    • Re:a nice perk (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Luminous (192747)
      I recently moved into an apartment building that has never had any broadband access (no one has installed DSL and the cable isn't digital). As I was setting up the DSL service, I realized at a slight extra cost, I could provide wireless access to all the residents.

      I'm actually going to present this to my management company and see if this is a perquisite they are willing to offer or if they would mind my going door-to-door and charging a small fee to run an apartment network.

      If I were a landlord, I'd be all over this. No cables being pulled through my walls (okay, some wiring may be necessary for quality of service issues) and a selling point only upscale building have.
      • If I were a landlord, I'd be all over this.

        If I were a landlord, I'd be all over it, too -- making sure everyone understood that I had nothing to do with it. The cost of a network like this is not the hardware, it's the support.

        Maybe you want to be constantly going around fixing everyone's network connection, figuring out why it sometimes stops working when the refrigerator goes on, etc, but there is no way in hell I would want to do it. And there's NO WAY I would guarantee it to a renter.

        • And for want of the perfect nail, the war was lost.

          Of course it is going to be buggy, and *I* as a landlord would be all over it because *I* am confident and comfortable in keeping things fixed. If a particular unit has undue problems, then I cable that apartment directly.

          I'd also run an email server so I can keep track of my tenents and spy on them like in that movie. (j/k) ;)

        • When my sister moved into her new apartment recently, and was being shown around the place she came upon a closet, opened the door, and the landlord told her, "Oh, by the way. Don't mess with anything in this closet. If you do, everyone in the building looses their internet access and yours will be the first door the technician knocks on."

          I later informed her that it was probably DSL and she noted that she had no idea that it was included with the apartment. She found out later that the service charge was included in the rent whether you actually used it or not.

          Meanwhile, I'm still accessing the net from a 28.8 modem (because the lines won't go any higher) and my sister just bought a new computer. Grrrrrrr...
      • I pitched that idea a while back while I was living in an apartment complex. You could run a T1 in and provide reasonably fast access for a nominal extra monthly fee. In an apartment complex, it would be feasible to wire the whole place up, and you'd think a landlord would dig the idea of appealing to the (extremely well paid) IS/IT crowd. They didn't go for it though. No vision.
    • Imagine if apartment complexes began offering this as a simple perk to residence

      A friend of mine moved into a complex that offered this service and he immediately signed up. He generally got the worst of all possible worlds; it was a proprietary system brought in by another company, they gave him only one box which he has to keep next to a window to get a connection, the speed is slow, and so on. I believe he eventually gave it up for a cable modem.

      In theory, sharing a internet connection across a whole apartment complex sounds like a great idea. In practice though, it never seems to work out very well. The complexes that I've investigated usually offer a pretty lame service aimed more at a casual user with no preconceptions or requirements. If you are interested in real broadband access, don't rent based on whether the complex provides access but rather on whether you can get DSL, cable, etc. through a third party.

    • Yes, but then the apartment complex essentially takes on the duties/responsibilities of an ISP.

      My company tried to set this sort of thing up in an apartment building in Japan. It turns out that its cheaper and more efficient just to pay an established ISP for service.
  • Pringles New Fangled Potato Chip.

    If they only knew.
  • by htmlboy (31265) on Monday August 27, 2001 @01:19PM (#2221896)
    from the article:

    "Internet access will be the primary mover for these free networks. Sharing a cable modem or a DSL line might annoy some folks [broadband providers], but it's probably legal," said Phil Belanger, vice president of wireless business development at Wayport Inc. in Austin, Texas, a for-profit provider of 802.11b services at airports and hotels."

    If the person who's sharing their connection to their ISP has agreed to an AUP prohibiting redistribution of service, account sharing, or wasteful behavior, I'd think such a system would run into legal issues. Granted, it'd be hard to stop, but I (not being a lawyer) have to think that guy's statement to be blantantly wrong.

    chris
    • but I (not being a lawyer) have to think that guy's statement to be blantantly wrong.

      Yes, he is wrong. Most AUP's prohibit this, even though there's not much they can do. It's perfectly legal for me to plug in the Linksys router/switch/access point and share the connection with my laptop. So if my neighbor points his Linksys card at me and starts leeching bandwidth, am I violating it? Will my ISP try to stop me? By setting up a wireless access point you're giving everyone around you free bandwidth. Using AirSnort you can get the MAC addresses, reprogram your card and you have instant internet, free of charge. So, what it comes down to is that yes it's against your policy but what can anyone do about it?
    • The same issue came up in the recent article on rolling-your-own DSL. Nearly every major provide prevents residental reselling of the connection, and even if this is a 'free' use, I'm sure that if someone sharing their line was discovered, they'd have their connection pulled.


      Mind you, the idea is very cool, and if I were running an ISP with sufficient resources, I'd be making sure that I had a end-of-line tap with a wiretransmitter in a sufficient grid within a city such that one can simply tell people "As long as you are in downtown, you can access the internet from anywhere." I'd even pay (ie, reduce the rates) of customers already in the city to offer such a service from their homes if possible. The average consumer of broadband these days is no where near fullying using their speed, and this would be an easy buck on both sides to make.

    • an AUP prohibiting redistribution of service, account sharing, or wasteful behavior...

      What could be more wasteful than letting that connection sit all day doing nothing? Oh I forgot, it would be OK if it were sucking up addverts all day.

      No, there is nothing the cable company can do if you are using NAT or masq. They will have to ban wireless, and I doubt they have the nuts to do that anymore than they could force Windoze on their users.

      • It is possible to determine if someone is using NAT in many systems. Linux is one. I believe FreeBSD's NAT system is much more difficult to determin. (All operating systems tend to open unspecified ports in specific sequences, ie: 1025 is used for a request, then 1026, etc. But using NAT Linux uses much higher port numbers in a different pattern. Making possible to detect.
        • In 2.4.X, linux defaults to using the same outgoing port that the originating machine used, then tries sequentially from there, rather than using ports in the 60,000 range (as prior kernel series did).

          You could still probably detect it, but A) it would be inconclusive, and B) it wouldn't mean anything if it were. I have two computers behind a NAT based firewall, and lots of people use those linksys (or other) "Cable/DSL routers" that do NAT automatically.
    • I don't think it's that simple. If someone were to ask me to download something and burn it to a CD for them, would that be account sharing? So what's the difference between that and someone asking me (my computer) to download something and then forward it to them via a wireless network? If you're running a proxy server or routing gateway, you are handling all the requests from your private network through one machine. You're still using it for personal use, but a personal use is handling requests for friends who don't have a broadband connection.

      Sure it may seem like a stretch, and I certainly don't agree with those people who say that the companies who are hurt by it are so large it doesn't matter. But, I don't think this constitutes reselling or redistributing access. It's simply handling requests using your time/bandwidth that you have paid for.

      The solution to this will be to pay by the K, but I'm not so sure how they're going to sell us Americans on that idea.

      • If someone were to ask me to download something and burn it to a CD for them, would that be account sharing?
        Of course not.
        But, I don't think this constitutes reselling or redistributing access. It's simply handling requests using your time/bandwidth that you have paid for.
        huh? How can redistributing a service not be redistribution of service? And anyway, you haven't paid for it, in the same way as I haven't paid for the entire salad bar at Pizza Palace just because I bought an "all you can eat" meal.
        • huh? How can redistributing a service not be redistribution of service? And anyway, you haven't paid for it, in the same way as I haven't paid for the entire salad bar at Pizza Palace just because I bought an "all you can eat" meal.
          You aren't redistributing the service. You may be providing a new service by being a proxy. If you can't create any derivitive services, then anyone who has a home office and a highspeed line is in for trouble.

          I have paid for it. My ISP advertises always on, high-speed access. They garuntee a specific rate up and down. This is absolutely nothing like an all you can eat buffet. Bandwidth is limited and controlled, not 'all you can use'. I don't pay for a portion of 640K, I pay for 640K.

    • Most cable modem services have pretty aggressive AUPs, which explicitly prohibit reselling service, and may either explicitly prohibit free sharing with too many people, or else have enough weasel words that they can drop you anyway. Some DSL ISPs are also that way; others are more flexible. Some of them have different policies for residential-priced DSL than for business-priced DSL - the latter can do a lot more, but cost more money.

      One fairly serious problem with systems like this is that people who are using DSL to access their offices as opposed to the Internet have to be careful to set up the wireless LAN to connect to the Internet and not their VPN. For instance, if you're using a separate 802.11 box, you're probably fine, but if you're using an 802.11 card and also the DSL/Cable in your PC, you need to be sure that it's not routing to the inside of your VPN. Using one PC as the 802.11 gateway and a laptop with 802.11 card and VPN software is probably safe.

      If you're using a Linux or BSD box for the 802.11 gateway, you've got some flexibility in building firewall rules so that the wireless guest users can only talk to the outside internet and not to your home machines. I don't know if anybody makes Linux transparent-firewall code that would let you intercept specific ports or not - it's probably worth doing some kind of proxy for SMTP that indicates that your machine was just relaying the mail, and limits the volume of traffic so spammers can't send huge quantities of mail (if they can only send small numbers of messages, that cuts down the abuse to a level that discourages drivebys as well as reducing the chances that your ISP will get complaints.)

  • by tcd004 (134130) on Monday August 27, 2001 @01:20PM (#2221905) Homepage
    Yuk. I sure hope that name doesn't stick.


    Condit on the run. [lostbrain.com]

    • All the good names are taken: ethernet, undernet, abovenet and freenet. Even overnet has a few takers in various countries.

      The question is, can your local wireless co-op become your ISP? Is the latency of hopping across consumer-grade access points all the way downtown where the shared internet connection lives going to suck, or suck really badly. I don't think any co-op will last long if it requires people to share their consumer-priced bandwidth in the face of telco and cableco opposition.
      • This seems appropriate. Appologies to Mike Batt.

        Undernet, Overnet, Wombling Free,
        The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we.
        Making good use of the net that we find,
        Nets that the everyday folks leave behind.

        (Original here [tripod.com])

      • How about the Wired?

        Err, just ignore the wireless part of the tech. It's still a cool name. :)
  • Anyone have a schematic or diagram for this?
    • by xof (518138)
      http://www.wlan2.dabsol.co.uk/tincan.gif
      http://www.saunalahti.fi/~elepal/antenna2.html

      and more of these on
      http://www.wlan2.dabsol.co.uk/antenna-page.html

      (from http://www.wlan2.dabsol.co.uk/page2.html)

      :-)
  • Bad idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eyrich (33605) on Monday August 27, 2001 @01:23PM (#2221922)
    So what happens when one of the parasites starts uploading child porn? Who do you think the FBI will arrest first?
    • Re:Bad idea (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rkent (73434)
      Right. My first inclination when I heard about "Free wireless networks" was, "That'll never work. People won't give service away forever."

      But then I got to thinking about Citizens' Band (CB) radio. It was a bit before my time, but my grandfather still had one when I was a child, and it was apparently all the rage in the late 70s. It was basically a huge network of private radios that people used to get help in emergency situations, warn others of speed traps, or just generally chat on the road.

      Of course the difference between that and free
      internet, is that there's up "uplink" from CB's. You just chat with each other. But I definitely think an "alter-net," if you will, might work; people sharing their wireless bandwidth to send email, share their webcams, whatever, even if the ISPs crack down on sharing an internet uplink.

      But anyway, why this is a response to the kiddie pr0n post: the downfall of this free wireless net could be the same as the downfall of CBs. They're still available and the bandwidth is still there, except that now it's full of foul-mouthed truckers cursing all night and all day, making civilized conversation all but impossible. Even on the emergency channel, apparently, it's just people hurling insults. So to the average user, it's objectionable and serves no use.

      If the free wireless net started getting up to the same level of conversation, for instance, rampant porn (or free mp3...) trading, it would probably fall by the wayside for legitimate users. Even worse, if it was used primarily for child porn or bootleg video swapping, the bandwidth would be swamped AND the cops would crack down, making it not only objectionable, but downright evil in the eyes of some. Let's hope this project doesn't get ruined the same way.
    • well it has already been stated that an ISP is not responsible for what its users use it for. So, if you aren't violating your AUP then I am sure that you won't be able to be prosecuted...

      They will try, but I doubt they would get very very far.
    • Forget kiddie porn. The big threat is spam. Bad guy can drive or walk around all day grabbing IPs and sending emails using open SMTPs or spam tools [mailutilities.com] from a little company in Russia we all know about.

      Don't think it will happen? I bet, if freenets become more popular, someone builds a customized spamming laptop (802.11, long battery life - old 486 or Pentium subnotebook is fine) for this exclusive purpose and starts selling it on eBay. It wouldn't be difficult at all!

  • "Internet access will be the primary mover for these free networks. Sharing a cable modem or a DSL line might annoy some folks [broadband providers], but it's probably legal," said Phil Belanger, vice president of wireless business development at Wayport Inc. in Austin, Texas, a for-profit provider of 802.11b services at airports and hotels.

    Now, its true it might be legal to share the cable modem or DSL, doesn't mean the providers have to let you. They could simply change their terms of service. Since these lovely providers seem to be competeing in the wireless market as well I am sure they can come up with inventive ways to slow the spread or stop it.....

    Still you have to get people out there to use it, and perhaps the reason it flourishes now is because its too small for the behemoths to notice.
  • by Gaewyn L Knight (16566) <`vaewyn' `at' `wwwrogue.com'> on Monday August 27, 2001 @01:29PM (#2221970) Homepage Journal
    Several people on the Bay Area Wireless User Group [bawug.org] mailing list have pointed out a large amount of factual errors in this article.
    Such things as that the pringles cans are ANTENNAS not REPEATERS and that you can not get ANY wireless fully 802.11b access points for under about 160$ new (even on ebay).

    For some more on this check out the mailinglist archive at [bawug.org]
    http://lists.bawug.org/pipermail/wireless/2001-A ug ust/thread.html under the subjects "Did you know you were a parasitic grid?","Infoworld writer responds
    " and "Unprofessional conduct on the part of Ephraim Schwartz". Definately shows how little this writer actually knows...
    • Not true, buy a wireless card for around $80-$90 bucks (several models to choose from), plug it in to your existing old 486 laptop (free) running linux (free) and you've got a sub-100 access point. granted, it isn't quite 'NEW' but it sure works (and nicely, as a firewall/access point/print server).
  • Liability (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bronz (429622)
    I have one major concern on these wireless freenets... what happens when the freak who lives in a van down by the river pulls up outside of my pad, taps into my wireless access point, and starts threatening the big Dubbaya, or maybe arranges for some kiddie porn or something. Isn't there a fear of being the last identifiable link in the chain, and assuming liability for letting people use your connection?
  • I've been thinking about this for a while, and this is a good time to bring it up.

    I've been reading articles about the incredibly low cost of fiber lines relative to T*'s; with common prices for a 1.5 Mb/s T1 being about $850/month and a 12Mb/s fiber line being approximately $1500/month. Also, with the fiber line you can get bandwidth upgrades without any physical modifications; you just call the provider, they flip a switch, and boom, more bandwidth.

    Why not create a non-profit or not-for-profit a la Spindl3top [spindl3top.org] that goes out, leases a fiber line, and then provides instructions to roll your own DSL [pbs.org]. People could also use 802.11b with directional and omnidirectional antennae. You could, say, provide the wireless access for free (maybe with a bandwidth cap) and charge a small fee for the DSL access or no-bandwidth-cap wireless access. People would be able to split a mega-fat pipe at cost. Hmm, maybe if I run into some money I'll... ::goes to find some money::
  • by Hobbex (41473) on Monday August 27, 2001 @01:36PM (#2222005)

    Having seen the wonderful success that the "all you can eat" model has had in buffé resturaunts, I started the All You Can Eat Supermarket (tm). The model is simple, people come in to the store every day, and for a low price, they can take as much food as they wish to eat that day.

    Of course, on entering, you have to sign the "Terms of Shopping" agreements, that by which you promise not to:
    - Take food and then decide not to eat it.
    - Share food with others.
    - Save your food for another day.
    - Eat more than three meals a day.
    - Puke after ingesting the food.

    If somebody signs these agreements, then they should stick to them, shouldn't they? If they aren't, then they are STEALING from me. If they don't like the terms, they don't have to shop at the All You Can Eat Supermarket (R) at all.

    Well, it turns out that there is actually a large population (an you believe it!) of lowlife scum, who come to the All You Can Eat Supermarkey (TM), and then go home and feed their entire families with the food, or refrigerate leftovers and eat them for lunch the next day! If that is allowed to continue, then I will loose business, and people will loose their jobs!

    Therefore, I am on my way to Washington to lobby for the passing of strict laws that allow monitoring of all food consumption of all people, so that this wholesale stealing of food cannot be done. So maybe that might hurt peoples privacy, integrity, and freedom - but how will business survive without it?
    • This is not a mom and pop grocery store. These is the telocos and time warrner. Do not try to tell me that they are tight on making ends meet. Bummer for all of the dsl providers that dropped out. But the real reason for the failure is that the telecos were stealing from them (overcharging for the last mile, and putting roadblocks in to connecting to the customer etc.)
  • but I'm not sharing my connection with anyone until I can be almost 100% sure those who are using the connection aren't just using it for warez, mp3s and porn.

    • Just have a notice stating that all connections may be monitored for content, and if people don't like that they don't have to use your network. And when you find them using kiddie porn you blacklist their MAC address.
  • consume.net (Score:2, Informative)

    by labratuk (204918)
    This kinda thing has already been going on in the London (UK) area for a couple of years. It's not exactly the same, but the principle is very similar.

    It's here [consume.net], and speaking of which I wonder how its getting on: I havent had a look for a couple of months.

  • by toupsie (88295) on Monday August 27, 2001 @01:45PM (#2222056) Homepage
    Just last night I took my TiPB [apple.com] (Apple Titanium Powerbook) to Washington Square Park (NYU Campus [nyu.edu]) and hooked into the NYCWireless free 802.11b network (link [nycwireless.net]) at the northeast end of the park using my AirPort card [apple.com]. This was the first time I tried out one of these "Parasitic Grids". I was quite impressed. Sitting out on the grass (ignoring the guys selling grass [marijuana.com]), I was surfing Slashdot, downloading updates to Fink [sourceforge.net] and chattin' with my friends on IRC. I was quite impressed with the speed of my connection (about 36kps) and my ability to roam from spot to spot in the grass in order to hear the guy playing violin better. Being able to take my computer into the great outdoors, tuning into a free wireless network and getting work/fun done to me has to be one of the best advancements in computers yet. Now the computer does not dictate the environment it works in, I do.


    On a side note, any coffee shop that wants to kick Starbuck's ass ought to buy a cheap DSL line/Cable modem and hang a 802.11b base station and give away free bandwidth for the cost of a $4.95 mocha carmel frappa latte skim half-caf double-decaf cappachino.

    • Only 36K? I suppose that's reasonable for a free service. Indeed, if that were available where I live, and I thought it was likely to be a permanent service, I'd order my 802.11 card right now -- and ask the operators if they are accepting donations.

      But it'll never compete with DSL. And if you're getting that little bandwidth out of an 11 megabit connection, the system must be close to saturation -- and being totally unusable.

      • And if you're getting that little bandwidth out of an 11 megabit connection, the system must be close to saturation

        It may have been, but there are other possibilities:

        • The transmitter signal was marginal, that cuts bandwidth a lot
        • The transmitter signal was fine, but the receiver wasn't sensitive to pick up the laptop's signal so well
        • The base station to laptop signal was great, but that base station had no wireline, only another wireless connection, and it wasn't so hot just then

        Plus all the other reasons an IP connection may suck one day, and not another.

  • I think now we know what's really responsible for global warming.
  • in future broadband vendor's contracts will surely include "access is not to be shared beyond home of subscriber" or something like that if it is not like that already.

    I think my cable company already has a clause like that so neigbors don't get together with one HBO subscription.
  • by schporto (20516) on Monday August 27, 2001 @02:05PM (#2222160) Homepage
    OK we complain if someone has open ports on their servers allowing others to log into their servers and send spam endlessly, start DOS attacks etc. And here we're lauding people who want to comepletely open their networks? Gee if I was a spammer I'd be loving this. Just walk along and keep poping into different networks and send my bs. Nice.

    -cpd
  • If this network DID become as ubiquitous as the writer thinks it will be, then the need for actual internet access will be nill. The wireless network will BE the internet for all practical purposes.
  • Yeah.

    It only works if you color the rim with green magic marker.

    --Blair
    "Peace. Out."
  • Such networks are nice if you live in geek-centric neighborhoods...The big problem is that if they ever got the mainstream exposure to become really useful to a large number of folks, much of their utility would be lost as the wireless networks would wind up getting bogged down, both at the wireless access points themselves and especially at bridges used to let people out into the general internet (generally participator's cable modems or DSL lines).


    Somewhat like gnutella in that it would be very hard to find a balance between enough users to be useful and not so many users that everyone gets saturated.

  • Wonderful idea.

    The problem seems like an economic one called the common pasture problem:
    (see http://dieoff.com/page95.htm ) In the same way that a group of farmers will all overgraze a common pasture, a few people will abuse a free network, and people in areas of high density (say, living next door to a coffee house for example) will have their personal connections saturated.

    Check out the link above or do a google search for common pasture and economics.

    -Lewis

  • Another poster mentioned that this works much better in geek-heavy urban neighborhoods than in random locations. He's right, and the recent articles in the press have been missing the infrastructure questions. To the extent that these networks can piggyback on DSL or Cable Modem users, they can access real bandwidth (unless there are too many bandwidth hogs per wireless gateway, but that's not too likely in most places.) Mostly the upstream bandwidth is 128kbps; downstream may be a bit more, or a lot more for cable modems. It's fine for email and web browsing, but not very useful for running servers on (one of the recent articles suggested that a small company could just pop up a wireless modem and have their server online. Most cable companies and some DSL providers block port 80, and you can't really trust a volunteer-net for your business, though it's just fine for your home website with pictures of your kids.)

    The interesting potential for a wireless net is building a Fidonet-like backbone of wireless nodes that talk to each other without needing wired access points. If most of your demand is local, and you've got enough users close enough together that are running routing protocols, that can work, but unless you implement it carefully, routing tends do get ugly, you get lots of slow many-hop connections to get anywhere real, it flakes out whenever a well-connected node moves (causing the routing protocols to reconverge, slowly), and it's tough to get networks like that to load-balance well, so the traffic to the outside world is likely to concentrate on one or a few wired gateways - much nicer if that's a cable modem than a 144kbps IDSL line that's in the middle of town.

    Also, many of the gateways are designed for a NAT environment - instead of using real addresses, everybody's recycling 192.168.1.* over and over again, and diagnosing problems becomes really ugly. It's a bit easier if somebody coordinates a backbone running on, say, 172.16.*.* with mandatory decent antennas for the backbone nodes, but keeping a system with lots of users from getting flaky can be tough.

    The Mobile IP standards work addresses some of these issues.

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