Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« King County Files Hate Crime C... | Last Chance to See Stuck on th... »

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Winning the War on Wireless

posted by on June 12 at 16:48 PM

Posted by news intern Chris Kissel

In my news article this week, I reported that all attempts at providing free municipal WiFi across the country had ended in miserable failure. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning, I may have spoken too soon.

The article says that the city is linking up residents with the help of Meraki, a small company that set up routers around the city in order to get its name out in the open.

In Seattle, we’ve got Seattle Wireless, a movement whose participants, like Matt Towers, set up nodes in their neighborhoods out of the kindness of their hearts. The result is a mesh network spanning the city that’s got potential, but for the time being is full of holes and, for those who can pick up the signal on their laptops, provides service that’s unreliable at best.

Matt Westervelt, one of the founders of Seattle Wireless, told me that the incentives for setting up a grassroots-based free WiFi network in Seattle amount to a feeling of “public good will” and a personal interest in doing the work. In San Francisco, project developers found a way to couple that with the entrepreneurial spirit, and now “144,000 residents will be surfing the Web for free by the end of the year at no cost to the city.”

On top of that,

The mayor’s office is working to ensure that SRO hotels and public housing projects are some of the first to receive the devices because residents there typically don’t have Internet access. Five public housing projects now have the technology, and 13 more are expected to have it by the end of the year, Newsom said.

The work that folks like Westervelt and Towers are doing in the city is great, but they can’t do it on their own. In San Francisco, it looks like some initiative on the part of the city in fostering a healthy business relationship with a start-up company (read: not Earthlink) was the key to getting something substantial to happen.

RSS icon Comments


Actually, I don't think Meraki and the city have a relationship. The mayor is happy to take credit; but I've seen nothing to indicate that the city "fostered" anything with Meraki other than a photo-op. While the city and Earthlink failed to collaborate, Meraki's doing this all on their own (with help from Google). They own the equipment and the pipes; it was a free gift to SF because it was a test case, but Meraki's planning to charge in the future.

So, it's not really municipal, since the city has no control over it -- it's entirely private. And I'll happily take private WiFi over public vaporware.

Posted by mattymatt | June 12, 2008 5:09 PM

Can't we just outsource it to Japan or South Korea or some place where they deliver 10 to 20 times the bandwidth and storage at one-tenth to one-twentieth the cost?

Oh, wait, that would involve permitting capitalistic non-monopolies to function in our society ... can't have that, King George might object, or one of his Red Royalists ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 12, 2008 5:29 PM

Meraki has given away thousands of routers to people in very specific areas in San Francisco (you enter in your address, and they send one to you). The routers mesh with each other and users are expected (but not required) to plug them into their internet connections. In exchange for the free hardware, Meraki gets their name out there, revenue from the packet injecting ad bar, and control over the equipment. If you can connect, you get free access. That's great, but you can believe they're not just going to hand these out to everyone.

If people here are interested in building a mesh, without the corporate subsidies (or the strings), you can do this today by installing some free firmware (openwrt with olsr-ng) on your access point that is not only open source, but used all over the world. We ( have nodes scattered throughout the city, but it's a part time project spread out among volunteers, not a commercial venture. While we don't have the dough to subsidize your gear, we will give you a hand with it if you're going to help create the network.

Municipal wireless might just turn out to be a loser, but Community Wireless does work. It just seems to be a little harder in the US.

CWN list on Wikipedia

Funkfeuer (austrian free network) has a great saying.

don't log into the net - be the net!

Posted by mattw | June 12, 2008 5:58 PM


At least with respect to your comments on the Japanese wireless industry, NTT DoCoMo IS wireless in Japan. It does not get any more monolithic than their approach to technology. They are still effectively a monopoly, or at least the leader in an unbalance oligopoly.

Although their market share has slipped somewhat over the last 10 years, they basically make their own weather over there. They control so much of the market that they are able to develop and enforce their own infrastructure standards - unlike the US wireless carriers that operate in such a competitive market that they are forced to buy proprietary vendor solutions.

Yes, they have led with digital mobile voice and data services - but don't fool yourself that those services were rolled out due to 'capitalistic non-monopolistic' market forces.

Posted by Steve Leonard | June 12, 2008 10:15 PM

So how does this work for security?

Posted by Greg | June 13, 2008 3:15 PM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.