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Overview


The purpose of this document is to act as a guide to those that are interested in starting or joining a Community Wireless network.

Introduction


So you heard about this great concept of Community Wireless and want to join in on the fun? Well reading this document will hopefully give you some insight into what is involved in participating in a Community Wireless network.

Firstly, it is important to note that Community Wireless networks are not commercial network providers such as Internet Service Providers. If you enter into the world of Community Wireless with an expectation that it will be a competitive solution to getting a broadband Internet connection, or utilising a commercial medium to archieve wide area networking with another location, you are more than likely going to walk away disappointed.

Unlike Commerial providers, Community Wireless has no support levels or guarantees. There is no contract or obligation to provide services. Committment is decided purely on the people involved. So there will be times where the network you join will have outages; will require someone to resolve technical issues; will require support from it's community to survive.

So why join a Community Wireless network? Well, for the same reason you would join any other Community organisation: To participate; to be able communicate with other people; to build a system that is independent of commercial profit; to be able to play a game or share information with your mates; to challenge yourself and learn new skills.

Before you say it, yes - the above does sound a lot like a "Join the Scouts" commerical. However, it is vital to the survival of a Community network that there is an understanding that the network does not support itself. Wireless is not the ultimate solution to everyone's networking problems. Though, it is a whole lot of fun, and a great way to meet people. With a little bit of effort, it can reap a lot of benefits.

Disclaimer


The author(s) take no responsibility for any damages incurred due to the use of the information contained in this document. That being said, every attempt at keeping the information as accurate as possible has been made. If you find any errors in this document, or have any further contributions to make, please post them on the forums.

History


More to come! razz

Community Wireless Open Framework


As explained in the preamble to the document:

The Community Wireless Open Framework is a project setup to support an open standard model for Community Wireless projects across the Northern Territory. However, we do not wish to limit the use of this framework to just one geographical area. We will attempt to keep the content as generic as possible to allow it's use beyond Northern Australia.

It is designed to provide a foundation of networking standards (both technical and administrative) that will allow the formation and growth of Community Wireless in the NT.

The Goal is to have one Open and Standard Framework. Allowing for free (as in speech), economical and equal access to Community Wireless Networks. Utilising the CWOF it is intended networks can be compatiable and flexible enough to interconnect with each other. Thus reducing the need to deal with technical inconsistencies that would occur if the networks were built using individual standards. The "CWOF" should provide mechanisms to ensure the most effective methods are being implemented to streamline network setup, maintenance and expansion.


So how does this affect you? Well, if you're looking for a solid foundation to form a Community Wireless network, it's going to be something you might want to utilise. If you are thinking of joining a Community Wireless network that supports the CWOF, then you will need to understand what it is about - as these are the terms and conditions you are agreeing to by joining that network.

More information can be found on the CommunityWirelessOpenFrameWork page.

Types of Wireless Networks


Obviously there are a lot of differing Wireless standards and routing protocols, but to keep things simple, we will simply look at the fundamental factors of Wireless networking.

Like a lot of things, there is more than one way to skin a cat (appologies to the cat lovers). Luckily, there are really only two distinctly different Wireless networks:


There may be variations or mixes on these two types of Wireless network setups, as (like everything) both have their strengths and weaknesses. We will try and explain the difference between the two.

Repeater/Node Networks

This type of Wireless networking is based more off the traditional networking that you would see on wired LAN networks. Basically, you have a hub (Access Point) that provides connectivity to it's clients (nodes) by repeating the packets/frames to and from each node. One repeater site can connect to another repeater site via a backbone link. This then links segments (groups of nodes connected to a repeater) of the Wireless network together to form a larger network.

Fig1



Strengths:


Weaknesses:


Mesh Networks

Mesh networks work off the principal that every network node can also be a repeater. Each node operates in an "adhoc" sense, able to connect to any node that it can get a suitable enough signal to. Mesh networks generally use low gain antennas such as Omni directionals in high wireless density area. In order for a Mesh network to be effective, it must be able to use a routing protocol that can dynamically determine it's routes, and even the link quality across the network.

Fig 2



Strengths:


Weaknesses:


It is important to acknowledge, that each wireless network setup may call for a different configuration. There may be a combination of the two forms of network, depending on the geographic location of each node. There will always be strengths and weaknesses in whatever model you choose to use. The key is to work out the model that works best for you.

Remember, the number one golden rule is "Line of Sight". With line of sight, Wireless works wonderfully (up to around 20kms with 802.11b). As soon as there are obstructions such as buildings, trees and hills, it gets more difficult to push a network across great distances. Though, it is never impossible. wink

Another thing to remember is what was mentioned earlier. A community wireless network is only as strong as the community behind it. That includes the ability to keep a fair and stable network that all can benefit from. There are many issues and challenges that a Community network will face. Not all of these are necessarily technical.

Starting a Community Wireless network


So you have heard about this Wireless gig and think it would be a good idea to start up a Community Wireless network? Well, before you do, it might be worth just checking to make sure there is not one in your area already. The best way to do this would probably be to ask on the forums, as unfortunately networks can come and go, so it is rather difficult to keep an up to date index of all active Wireless groups around Australia. The Air Stream Wireless group from Adelaide have recently made a list of known Community Wireless networks. So it may be worth checking that list out.

In the case that there is no other network in your area, you are probably going to want to start a network, right? Well lets see how we can do this.

Choosing your topology


As mentioned in the information regarding Wireless networking topologies, there are a few ways you can develop a network. Each has it's pros and cons, and each can even work with each other to give you the best of both worlds. The important thing to look at is what is going to suit your community network best? For example, if you live in remote area where people are more than 5kms away, then setting up higher powered directional links might be your only choice. However, at the right height, Omni directionals could probably archieve the same results, but give you the option of using a Meshed Topology.

You also may want to consider the technical aspect of your network. Do you want to design it for 100+ people, or it just for a community of 5-10 nodes. Obviously you are going to want to simplify the management of a larger network, but if it is a small network, this may not be such an issue.

Basically there is no direct answer for "This is what you need, and this is how to get it working". There is really only "depending on your geographical location, height, finance and resources, this is what might work for you". The important thing is that you think it through and have a good idea of what you want to archieve out of setting up a Community Wireless network.

Utilising the Community Wireless Open Framework


The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing. The CWOF is meant to act as a guidance for setting up and maintaining a Community Wireless network. You may not feel you need to use such a guide, but there should be some resource of information in there that should provide some assistance.

If you chose to Utilise the CWOF, it is important to declare which version of the framework you are using, as it is a ever changing document that may undergo changes from when you first implemented it on your network. It is expected that there may even be forks off the original CWOF revision which may be more suitable to your needs. The important thing is that you have declared what version you are following, and make it available to all members on the network.

Selecting your IP Range


Please refer to the CWOF document on TheMeshCWOFIPAllocations.

Publishing your network's existence


If your network is run under the CWOF, you can add it to the list of CWOF Networks. You can also add yourself to Air Stream's list of known Community Wireless networks.

NodeDB is also a good place to publish your Wireless locations so that others interested in Wireless within your region can see your presence.

Required equipment


Well the question of "What equipment will I need?" can be the same as asking "How long is a piece of string?". It all depends on what you are trying to achieve.

Traditionally setting up a Wireless node, you will need the following:

Equipment is really an assessment you're going to have to make based on how much you're willing to spend, and what kind of topology you're looking at using. Just remember, there is a large resource of people out there that know about this stuff, so ask around on the different Wireless Community forums. Check out their chatrooms and ask how others have done it. Most people are willing to share their experiences, and if you're lucky have documented them on a website somewhere. wink

Where to get help


As mentioned above, there is a large number of people around the world that participate in Community Wireless. Most poeple are willing to share their experiences and offer support for problems you may be having. There is also a lot of documentation available on Wireless technologies, so don't forget the good old Google search.

There is works going into linking Australian Community Wireless networks via an IRC chat network, so if this ever comes to pass, it should be possible to jump onto IRC and visit any of the Community Wireless networks around Australia.

Joining a Community Wireless Network


So you're looking to join a Community Wireless network? Well, there are a couple of things you should know before you go throwing resources into getting connected.

Firstly, make sure that joining a Community Wireless network is really what you're looking for. As mentioned in the Introduction section to this document, Community Wireless networks are not a replacement for commercial rated services, at least not if you want any guarantees of service. Wireless communities are built by people, for people.

Make sure you do your homework and investigate the pros and cons of connecting. Talk to people who might already be involved in Wireless Communities. Check Wireless group forums for info, and do a bit of background work on Wireless technologies. A lot of people have had heavy expectations of Wireless networking, and most of the time have not researched the technology enough to know it's limitations.

So, that said. Hopefully you're not completely scared off this wireless game and may still be interested in connecting. smile

Networks in your area


First thing you want to do is establish whether there are any Wireless networks in your area. There are a few ways to do this:


Getting in contact with others on the network


Most Community Wireless networks have an online forum or mailing list to facilitate discussions. So a good start would be to register with your network's forums and throw up a "Hello world" message. Some also have an IRC chatroom somewhere on the Internet that you can connect to. Might be worth asking on the forums. wink

Occassionally you might find people might be willing to venture off the online medium and actually attend a physical meeting such as a BBQ or a Wireless installation. It's a community thing, so everyone appreciates the offer of help. From experience you find a broad range of people all with their own reason for being involved in the network. So if you get the chance, try and attend or organise an event with your Community Wireless network.

Commitment to the network


It has been said before that along with joining a Community Wireless network, there is also a required commitment to the network. This being the case, most of us don't have heaps of spare time up our sleeves. So we give where we can. This does not have to be a financial contribution either. It can be anything from helping out with an installation of hardware, setting up of software, or providing assistance in your field of expertise. Commitment to the growth and stablity of your network shouldn't be seen as a burden. If that's how it feels, then there is something wrong with the way things are running.

Required equipment


Well the question of "What equipment will I need?" can be the same as asking "How long is a piece of string?". It all depends on what you are trying to achieve.

Traditionally setting up a Wireless node, you will need the following:

Equipment is really an assessment you're going to have to make based on how much you're willing to spend, and what kind of topology you're looking at using. Just remember, there is a large resource of people out there that know about this stuff, so ask around on the different Wireless Community forums. Check out their chatrooms and ask how others have done it. Most people are willing to share their experiences, and if you're lucky have documented them on a website somewhere. (wink)

Resources on the network


The question is often asked, "What's on a Community Wireless network?". Well, it's really what members on the network put on there. Think of it like any other network you would use. The Internet is a good example of this. It's just a big network where people host services such as web servers. Obviously your Wireless Community is not going to be the size of the Internet. However, it can still have the same services. Below are just a few services that could used:

Check with the members of your network to see what services are available, and if you have any services to contribute, don't be afraid to do so.

How To's and Documentation


You should have figured out by now that http://www.the-mesh.org is trying to build a resource for Community Wireless. As part of this resource there is a section of our Wiki for Documentation on all Wireless related issues. Make sure you check it out on the Documentation page. Within the Documentation pages, there is a section for HowTos. Which are designed to provide guidance in setting up Community Wireless networks.

We hope this document has provided some use to you. Please let us know if it helped, or if it needs work.

Any further questions can be directed towards the forums.


Contributors to this page: Lothar , Rip , kronk and Jinx .
Page last modified on Wednesday 27 of September, 2006 21:37:30 CST by Lothar.
The content on this page is licensed under the terms of the GNU FDL.

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