Tarheel MeshNet Initiative

I just found this new group on Facebook. Its called the Tarheel MeshNet Initiative. If you’re using facebook login and look for this group. I’ll post an external public URL once I find one. 🙂 This is a wonderful thing to have locally. Yah UNC!

Our goal is to design and implement mesh wifi networks for future deployment in low-income communities.

What is MeshNet?
A mesh network uses multiple wireless routers, called nodes, to transfer data around a network. These networks are simple to set up, can run on off-the-shelf hardware, and can be used to blanket an area with network and internet coverage. For low income communities, this means that a small number of traditional high-speed internet connections, such as DSL, can be used to provide connectivity to an entire area. The range of the network can be extended simply by adding an additional node, which involves nothing more than just plugging it in.

Cross Posted on OrangeNetworking.org

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MuniWireless.com analyst on Chapel Hill's free Wi-Fi

The Independent Weekly has a great article by Fiona Morgan called Carol Ellison: MuniWireless.com analyst on Chapel Hill’s free Wi-Fi. Its a short interview discussing Chapel Hill’s involvement with public wifi. Here is the most important part to me.

Carol Ellison –

I would be very surprised if Chapel Hill encountered any of the problems those larger cities have because they’re using a different model altogether. Chapel Hill is deploying one hotspot and then another. They’re not saying this is going to be citywide. They’re taking a very measured approach, as opposed to diving in and promising service to everyone. Secondly, the town is going to own the network, whereas in San Francisco and in Chicago, the private provider would have owned the network. San Francisco was working out the provisions of a contract with EarthLink at the time that EarthLink announced massive layoffs and the fact that it was retreating from the market, and Chicago was negotiating with EarthLink as well as AT&T. So both cities were really at the mercy of what the private provider was going to do. I’m impressed by what Chapel Hill’s doing because they’re really in control of their own fate. If for whatever reason things don’t work out with Clearwire, they could find another provider and it’s still their network.

This is important because it counters many other articles in the media that have been arguing the other side of this. That municipal Wifi is somehow a bad idea because these huge projects failed in Chicago and San Francisco. They failed because a big company called Earthlink is having serious business problems. These kind of problems are EXACTLY why we need public ownership of major resources like broadband. Which WiFi is but one.

I applaud the Town of Chapel Hill for being careful in their investigation of implementing WiFi. We can learn from the mistakes of others. Isn’t that what wise Towns should do?

Mobile Video Internet Calling

That is a Nokia N800. Another way you could use public WiFi… Its not just for coffee shops and laptops anymore! This video demonstrates the Nokia N800 tablet using Gtalk to make a video call to someone. Pretty good quality for a small device.

The popular VOIP software Skype works on the N800 now. This means you can send and receive voices calls from this tablet to a landline or mobile phone. All via WiFi.

Chapel Hill Launches Wi-Fi Pilot Project

Chapel Hill WiFi MapThe Town email newsletter “Chapel Hill eNews’ just announced WiFi pilot will be at the following locations.

(1.) U.S. Post Office, 179 E. Franklin St.
(2.) Old Town Hall (IFC Shelter), 100 W. Rosemary St.
(3.) Town Parking Lot 5, 108 Church St.
(4.) Hargraves Center, 216 N. Roberson St.
(5.) Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau, 501 W. Franklin St.
(6.) 411 West Restaurant, 411 W. Franklin St.

Here is the whole announcement:

4. Chapel Hill Launches Wi-Fi Pilot Project

The Town of Chapel Hill this Friday will activate six Wi-Fi hotspots in the downtown area, giving the public free access to the internet along much of Franklin Street.

The provision of wireless internet service to citizens has ranked as a top priority goal for the Town Council. The launching of wireless hotspots in downtown is considered a pilot project and a step forward toward this goal. The hotspots, which show up on wireless devices as “TOWNofCH-WiFi,” are located at the following (see map at www.townofchapelhill.org/DocumentView.asp?DID=1904):

(1.) U.S. Post Office, 179 E. Franklin St.
(2.) Old Town Hall (IFC Shelter), 100 W. Rosemary St.
(3.) Town Parking Lot 5, 108 Church St.
(4.) Hargraves Center, 216 N. Roberson St.
(5.) Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau, 501 W. Franklin St.
(6.) 411 West Restaurant, 411 W. Franklin St.

Bob Avery, information technology director, said users within 300 feet of a hotspot should be able to connect, although the ability to connect will depend on the capability of the user’s device and the amount of obstructions between the user and the antenna. For a street level user, trees, buses, trucks and buildings will all reduce the quality of the connection signal.

The Town will soon provide information to the public by website, media and signage to help promote the hotspots and explain how they may be used. More information will be provided at the homepage of http://www.townofchapelhill.org.

The hotspots have been installed using Clearwire modems. These are attached to standard Wi-Fi access points with high gain antenna to provide the signal for public use.

The Town will not provide direct user support but does hope to be able to respond to and resolve outages or other service problems as they occur. To report comments and problems, please contact the Town at wifi@townofchapelhill.org.

TOWNofCH-WiFi is Here!

I just used the new Town of Chapel Hill WiFi for the first time. I was having lunch on Franklin street and got my laptop out. This is what I found in front of the Post Office.

Channel: 6

Now we need more public seating in front of the Post Office. 🙂 More fun to come!

THANK YOU Town of Chapel Hill. An especially big thanks to Bob Avery and his IT staff.

My View on WiFi in Chapel Hill News

A short opinion piece I wrote appears on the front page of todays Chapel Hill News. Its called Wi-Fi for the People. Its about my recent efforts to bring public WiFi to Chapel Hill, the new WiFi pilot project slated to start September 1, and the Chapel Hill Wireless Tailgate Parties.

In the article I reference two Orange Politics posts I wrote. Chapel Hill WiFi Pilot needs different Hotspots and Where is the Wifi?. A big thank you to the Chapel Hill News and Mark Schultz for agreeing to publish My View. Its wonderful when our local paper helps citizens learn about important new resources in town. Even better when they help encourage us to help our town improve them.

Stay tuned for more info about the Chapel Hill Wireless Tailgate Parties…

MuniWireless blogs about Wireless in Chapel Hill

Carol Ellison over at MuniWireless.com has written a post called Turning infrastructures into true community networks. Its about our work in Chapel Hill to bring attention to new public wifi hotspots. Hopefully on September 1 we will have five new public WiFi hotspots sponsored by the Town of Chapel Hill.

The post also mentions me and Orange Politics. Pretty cool. 🙂 Plus the Chapel Hill Wireless Tailgate parties. These are events at each hotspot I plan on holding. More info to come.

Thanks Carol and MuniWireless.com!

Share the Chapel Hill Wireless Map

April/May of last year (2006) I created the WordPress blog and Google Maps mash up Chapel Hill Wireless. The goal was to help people find wireless hotspots in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, North Carolina. Since then Anton created Durham Wireless and Zach created Asheville Wireless. Plus lots of other things have happened. Now we are on the cusp of the first Town of Chapel Hill public WiFi pilot project. I believe this is only the tip of the iceberg. Public WiFi is just the beginning.

But today I added all the locations I had on ChapelHillWireless.org in a new Google Map. You can go to this Google map page, click on share this link, and copy the code to embed it on your site. Hopefully this will be a good way to spread this valuable info.

Now that editing this map is super easy I plan on adding lots more info to the little pop up box. Maybe even photos and video. 🙂

View Larger Map

If you misplace this post you can always find it on a page linked at the top of the site.

Note: WiFi hotspots on the UNC campus are not included on this map. Those hotspots are not open to the general public. (People not directly affiliated with UNC) When I find a map of WiFi on campus I’ll blog about it.

Muni WiFi helps bridge disaster recovery

MuniWreless.com points me to a good article at Computer World called New Wi-Fi network proves critical in Minneapolis bridge disaster.

“Thank goodness we had it in and that this piece of the network was already up and operational,” said Minneapolis City CIO Lynn Willenbring. “We could not have been as effective if it were not for that.”

The article explains how the Wi-Fi network near the disaster site helped rescuers download maps, connect webcams, and obtain other data. Another benefit was relieving cell networks from the massive increase in connections.

The use of municipal Wi-Fi networks in emergencies has been talked about for years in scenario white-board planning, he said, [Joe Caldwell, the co-founder of Minneapolis-based US Internet and CEO of USI Wireless] but “it has never really been put into play. … What we found out is that it is definitely viable and definitely makes a huge difference.”