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TheFreeNet - mesh wi-fi in Wellington metropolitan areas

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 4-Feb-2008 15:30

During the last weekend at Kiwi Foo Camp I came across a very interesting project called The Free Net. Rod Drury went as far as saying this was one of the Best of Foo.

The whole idea is to use accessible wireless mesh repeaters to extend a wireless LAN (wi-fi) network and cover Wellington with free wi-fi. The Meraki solution was adopted by the project because they manufacture a few hardware options including an indoor version (pictured), an outdoor version and an upcoming solar battery-powered outdoor version.

Individuals and companies would "donate" part of their bandwidth to the project. Companies could subsidise this through advertising shown in a narrow bar on top of the webpages visited (I saw that and it's really not a problem).

The project is being initially sponsored by Webstock 2008 and Govis, who are creating a fund with their donations of NZ$5,000 and $9,000 respectively to purchase those devices and donate to individuals and companies who want to start sharing their networks.

This will be a lot of devices, since the Meraki indoors costs only US$49 and the Meraki outdoor costs US$99.

The whole thing is based on a "pay forward" concept where you don't charge others to use your bandwidth while you can use someone else's bandwidth for free.

The project established a 1 GB limit that any MAC address can use during the month which is a lot in a shared model aimed to be used only when you are away from your own network.

Hopefully with more people joining in all the traffic won't be going throug a handful of companies and individuals.

You don't need to donate your bandwidth though. You can donate the space and power required for these devices to run. Providing they are in range to another device then the network will be extended and Internet access will be provided through the shared gateways in the system.

At the end of the day you will be hard pressed to find individuals who can afford sharing their bandwidth in th current New Zealand broadband landscape. In this country there's no concept of "unlimited" bandwidth. People are still being charged in plans that go from a minimum of 1GB (yes, believe me), going through 5GB, 10GB and so on.

We are here on a 80 GB plan, for example, and only use about 60 GB a month. I would be happy to share the other 20 GB but there is currently no way to limit this on the project. You can limit the bandwidth throughput (to say 512 Kbps instead of the native 10 Mbps on my cable conneciton) but you can't limit the number of users.

There are other projects and products that allow people to share their Internet connections around, but none incorporate the mesh aspect of this project which means it does not require every single node to be directly connected to the Internet. You can have a look at FON (not available in New Zealand), Tomizone or Zenbu (both New Zealand-based businesses).

FON allows you to share your connection for free, while using other people's connections for free as well. Or to make it available for free to other people who share their connections, while charging "visitors" that do not share their own connections.

Tomizone and Zenbu both work on the same commercial view. You purchase a router with a modified firmware and can then establish your own hotspot service, charging people for access.

I would be much more inclined to use the FON model for example, to cover the basic connection cost, but wouldn't mind going completely commercial to cover all the costs.

What do you think?

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Mauricio Freitas
Wellington
New Zealand


I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

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