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Wireless Networking The Internet Hardware Technology

San Francisco's Got Free Wi-Fi 156

Posted by timothy
from the leave-your-heart-and-brain dept.
Carpoolio writes "If you're living in San Francisco, chances are you can connect, for free, to the BARWN -- the Bay Area Research Wireless Network. BARWN broadcasts an 802.11 signal from the top of a big hill near San Francisco, and anyone with a clear sight line to the signal can connect. Another set of wireless nodes are being placed around town by SFLan, making Wi-Fi available to tens of thousands of people."
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San Francisco's Got Free Wi-Fi

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  • hmmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:33PM (#7712344)
    Free as in WIFI?
  • Overloaded? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AKnightCowboy (608632) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:39PM (#7712371)
    Wow, that must be some magic access point. Mine can only handle about 30 people before it's saturated. How did they overcome that limitation of 802.11b?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:41PM (#7712385)
    ... it will happen
  • Not quite everyone (Score:5, Informative)

    by paul248 (536459) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:41PM (#7712386) Homepage
    According to the article, The hill has a few directional antennas that provide access to 30 or so stationary access points scattered around the area. I assume those access points also have directional antennas pointing back. This would seem to indicate that in order to get online, you have to be near one of the access points, not simply in view of the hill.
  • spammers paradise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by adept256 (732470) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:42PM (#7712391)
    Can anyone tell me the likelihood of tracking down a spammer at a laptop in a city the size of San Francisco?
    • Re:spammers paradise (Score:5, Informative)

      by t0qer (230538) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:48PM (#7712417) Homepage Journal
      Can anyone tell me the likelihood of tracking down a spammer at a laptop in a city the size of San Francisco?


      SF is not as big as some people think it is. Compared to neighboring cities you could probably fit 3 SF's in Oakland, and as many as 5 in San Jose.

      As far as tracking spammers, when I worked at ricochet we recovered a laptop stolen from a trade show in San Francisco once. Wasn't really that hard once we had the modem # and triangulated it's position from the poletops it saw. From there it was just a matter of pinpointing its location with a loop antenna.
      • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @06:18PM (#7712563)
        SF is not as big as some people think it is. Compared to neighboring cities you could probably fit 3 SF's in Oakland, and as many as 5 in San Jose.

        I'm sorry, that doesn't speak to me much : just so I have an idea, how many SFs would you say fit in one Library of Congress?
      • When using a WiFi connection, you are only connected to one base station, rather than multiple cell towers. So maybe you could find a radius of the area the person could possibly be in, but not an exactly location.
    • Hopefully they'll publish their IP addresses, so we don't have to worry about this situation.
    • San Francisco is only about 49 square miles (roughly 7 miles by 7 miles)

  • Regardless (Score:3, Funny)

    by bluedust (731676) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:44PM (#7712400) Homepage
    It really doesn't matter if it's 802.11b, a, or g.. within minutes the connection will be slashdotted and brought to its knees.
  • WiFi VOIP (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tobes (302057) * <tobypadilla.gmail@com> on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:46PM (#7712409) Homepage
    It'll be nice when things like this become ubiquitous and someone starts manufacturing WiFi "cell" phones that use Vonnage or some such thing.

    It's been my experience that iChat has near cell sound quality, so having a small hardware iChat (or whatever you use) client with 802.11b access would be pretty sweet.
  • by justbsd (732594) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:48PM (#7712416)
    Just blanket the city with this [j-walk.com] and we're set.
  • SBC Surrenders. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tinrobot (314936) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:50PM (#7712434)
    So, does this mean people in SF can cancel their broadband connections and go 100% WiFi?
    • Oh noes, the monopoly broadband providers will be toast! Seriously, this is a good thing. Now cable and phone companies will have to actually compete to offer better value, not merely rake in the cash in exchange for poor service.
  • IP addressing?? How? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    And with these many people connecting, how is he handling IP addressing? Doesn't say anything about a dhcp server or NAT etc.....
  • by advocate_one (662832) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:52PM (#7712444)
    It will be brought to it's knees from the sheer mass of freeloading P2P traffic, not to mention all the worms looking for fresh hosts to infect.
    • by Saeger (456549)
      There's no reason routers (wireless or not) have to be so stupid.

      Throttle the connections based on a moving average of bandwidth usage, then your average Joe can get his email @ max speed, and your average Jane can download her 100MB of wedding pictures @ medium speed, but Johnny 24/7 Pirate will stuck at the remaining capacity (slow) speed.

      --

      • by Anonymous Coward
        What happens when Johnny figures out how to change his MAC address every hour? Parasites are a hard problem to deal with in any kind of system.
        • What happens when Johnny figures out how to change his MAC address every hour?
          An hour is *way* too long for this sort of thing. It needn't burst for more than 10 seconds or so.
  • by vudufixit (581911) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:53PM (#7712450)
    Look, no one should complain about a "free" connection, but I'm curious to know how fast the typical user's connection really is. After all, the access point has to be connected to a terrestrial data line, which has limited bandwidth. Of course, the more people find out about this, the slower it gets for everybody, right? Does anyone know if those who provide "free" wireless access have an upgrade plan to handle the additional traffic?
  • P2P on public WIFI (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eberlin (570874) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:53PM (#7712451) Homepage
    Most folks think spam when it comes to large wireless networks. I'm thinking P2P -- it'll be a bit tougher to trace shared music across a public wireless network than it would be on someone's home DSL connection.

    Of course this could also be a haven for computers that don't have the latest patches, have print/file sharing enabled, and don't have personal firewalls activated. For those who want to run in this, be careful.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      Of course this could also be a haven for computers that don't have the latest patches, have print/file sharing enabled, and don't have personal firewalls activated.
      No more so than the wired Internet. (And what is a "personal" firewall?)
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @05:59PM (#7712481)
    It would seem that if you have a clear line of sight to multiple APs, then you could combine them and have more bandwidth than a single AP-channel connection would provide. A ganged, multi-AP setup would use directional antennas to talk to each AP without collisions. Such a setup would also help if one AP were overloaded or down for some reason. The only problem would be if all the APs you talk to were routed through some narrow pipe somewhere in the network.
    • by PureFiction (10256) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @07:03PM (#7712841)
      It would seem that if you have a clear line of sight to multiple APs, then you could combine them and have more bandwidth than a single AP-channel connection would provide.

      This is called "concurrent multiple association" or simple multiple assocation / AP hopping, and it's something i've been working on off and on for a little while. I talk about it in a bit more detail on the Janus Wireless [peertech.org] pages, but I have yet to get anything stable ready for prime time use.

      The current problem with multiple association is that you need a very low latency interface to the network radio's at a packet injection / monitor mode level.

      I've been able to get this to work in a very crude and inefficient manner with cisco/prism cards used for monitor mode recv of packets, and prism2 based cards for packet injection to implement the multiple association and data packet injection.

      There is some hope that the newer cards, specifically the atheros 802.11a/g cards with a reversed binary HAL driver could provide the requisite low level functions to do this efficiently.

      But then you are faced with another problem: aggregating the UDP datagrams from multiple sources into a single address space similiar to the way mobile-IP has a dedicated "public" host which acts as your intermediary as your IP changes without breaking existing TCP connections.

      I've played with this a bit as well on a dedicated host that has a few IP's, and it works like a NAT that collates UDP datagrams from a wide variety of sources and converts them into the desired TCP/UDP/etc communication from that public endpoint.

      In short: for multiple association you need a number of new driver and radio interfaces for:

      1) very low latency packet injection and monitor style recv.

      2) specialized mobile-IP like drivers on the client that present a virtual interface (ethX) to then host while using injected datagrams over the various multiply-associated wifi links for transport.

      3) a dedicated public host with an IP it can allocate to you that accepts all of these incoming UDP packets from various source addresses (all the AP's you are using) and combines them into standard IP traffic from that public IP (ala mobile-IP as well).

      None of this is extremely difficult (with the newer cards) but it is a lot of code, and a lot of work, and requires some dedicated host resources.

      Now, for the cool part. When you do have all of these pieces in place, it allows you to:

      - Simply add cards to your system for more bandwidth. The multiple association throughput is limited only by the number of AP's you can talk to, and the number of cards you have to monitor and inject packets with. It scales nicely barring interference problems.

      - Maintain extremely high throughput as you move anywhere within range to open AP's! You could aggregate the upload capacity of 30 AP's to get a 10Mbps link to the net and maintain this constant fat uplink as you drive around the city.

      - Enjoy extremely reliable / robust communications. Since you are no longer dependant on a single AP, you dont have to worry about connection dropping, clients messing with your signal, etc. Your aggregate connection is spread over a number of AP's which means problems with individual AP's make only a very small impact on overall connectivity.

      This is really the way things are headed, and its only a matter of time before they become useable and widespread.
  • Monetize THIS! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Saeger (456549) <farrellj@gmail. c o m> on Saturday December 13, 2003 @06:01PM (#7712487) Homepage
    "Tim says he set up the network because he wants to give Internet access to people who can't afford or access it, especially people living in Third World countries or depressed areas of other countries."

    The thing about free wireless (that I love) is that it keeps the Ashcroft-types up at night worrying about anonymous "terrorist" freespeech, and it gives the telco-types and the WISP-wannabes the middleman middle finger.

    Community owned and operated, adhoc wireless mesh networking [wired.com] will be the future of free ubiquitous access despite some peoples early attempts to coopt it. It's similar to how FedEx thought they could own the Fax business [shirky.com] in the 80s. Can't blame 'em for trying I guess.

    --

    • Community owned and operated, adhoc wireless mesh networking will be the future of free ubiquitous access despite some peoples early attempts to coopt it.

      Nope, mesh networking (as described in your link, anyway) will never be free. Someone has to pay for those "stems reaching into the Internet," after all. The current system of semi-centralization is much more efficient than a mesh network. You run a bunch of connections to a central location, then you run a single big connection between those locatio

      • Re:Monetize THIS! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Saeger (456549)
        Obviously the intercity/interstate/etc hierarchy of fast fiber links won't be replaced by slower wireless nodes, but mesh networks plus those fewer stems would be much cheaper and more useful than having some megacorp own the local wired/wireless every step of the way.

        --

        • Obviously the intercity/interstate/etc hierarchy of fast fiber links won't be replaced by slower wireless nodes, but mesh networks plus those fewer stems would be much cheaper and more useful than having some megacorp own the local wired/wireless every step of the way.

          Many communities already have their own cooperative running those local wired/wireless setups. Sure, a non-profit is going to be cheaper than a corporation, since there's no one profiting off it, but I still don't think you're going to see

    • "Tim says he set up the network because he wants to give Internet access to people who can't afford or access it, especially people living in Third World countries or depressed areas of other countries."

      I can't pick up the signal in the East Bay...I doubt that anyone in another country or depressed region of the world (unless you count some parts of SF) will be able to pick it up...Expanding to Marin Co. may not be a good idea - they already have a high enough cancer rate as it is. All we need is some le

    • it gives the telco-types and the WISP-wannabes the middleman middle finger

      I suppose you think the wireless access points have a wireless connection to the Internet backbone. I would imagine if you thought about the kind of bandwidth this takes, the teleco in that area just sold a couple of OC3s or larger pipes.
  • Hmm, super (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @06:03PM (#7712499)
    from the top of a big hill near San Francisco, and anyone with a clear sight line to the signal can connect. Another set of wireless nodes are being placed around town by SFLan, making Wi-Fi available to tens of thousands of people

    In other news, the CDC and the Cancer Research Institute have sent observers in the city of San Francisco. When asked about their presence, CDC operatives declared they were here to monitor the results of an undisclosed "full-scale experiment".
  • by NineNine (235196) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @06:11PM (#7712532)
    Carrboro, NC [tocwireless.net]
  • hmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by prockcore (543967) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @06:16PM (#7712546)
    I left my AP in San Francisco
    High on a hill, it calls to me
    To be where signals are 3 bars,
    my ISP is 4 stars.
    My network is in the air, I don't care
  • I am a student at SFSU. We have a wonderful network that covers about half of the campus. There are also many wonderful cafes around time with free (as in beer) access. Props out to Perl's on West Portal, my favorite cafe in this part of time.
    • I mean town, not time.
    • Cool! I live not far away off of Ocean; I'll have to check out the cafes around campus. I'm a USF Law Student and the "tech" (if you can call them that, they are idiots!) department is very paranoid about bringing in WiFi. Funny thing is that on a clear day, I can sit in the Zief Library (law school) & get a signal from the undergrad campus library about 2 blocks away.
    • City College is thinking about this. There are some access points up around the Phelan campus (mostly in the computer labs) but the IT staff is not advertising them yet.

      And City College is nicely on top of a hill.

      I know, I have to walk up the damn several flights of stairs to get to classes.

      In fact, City College considered going wireless (microwave or IR, I don't know which) to link the other campuses at one point. My boss said they had a consultant walking around on the roofs proclaiming he could see
  • by faedle (114018) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @06:17PM (#7712557) Homepage Journal
    But, hats off to yet another group of intrepred geeks. San Francisco has been a hotbed of free WiFi service for quite some time, be it organized efforts like the aformentioned SFlan or ad-hockery created by people setting up intentionally open WiFi nodes in their homes and businesses.

    When I lived in SF, I got in a heated debate with a guy named Scott regarding whether all of this 802.11 ad-hockery was stealing from the phone company. He was largely a troll, never really arguing any points directly and shifting focus: but you can see the results at my website [moremayo.com]. He's even come back way after the fact and submitted comments in my comment section.

    The reason I bring up this discussion is because I think Scott's misconceptions about what people are doing with 802.11 open access points brings up a serious issue. Read what he has to say: and read between the lines for the greater position that he stands behind. It's a scary thought to consider that people believe that the phone companies have a right to make money, regardless of how badly they mishandle their markets.
    • It's a scary thought to consider that people believe that the phone companies have a right to make money

      Aren't those usually the same people who are heavily invested in the stock market (directly or indirectly), and so believe "what's good for bad-business is good for me?"

      --

    • hey faedle, forget about that idiot that replied to your post. I read all the stuff on your webpage and I also posted a comment. Scott is indeed an idiot. Anthony
  • by Anonymous Coward
    In a related story, the Toronto man caught driving naked the wrong way on a one-way street while hijacking WiFi for downloading kiddie porn [slashdot.org] has announced he will be moving to San Francisco after his release from prison.
  • Anonymous? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Can you connect to this anonymously? Here in Boston the Boston Public Library runs a free-as-in-beer public wireless network [bpl.org], but I'd hardly call it free-as-in-speech (filtering content, for the children! of course, and you need to log in with information tied to your library card).

    [Speaking of which, does anyone know of anyone providing free and anonymous WiFi access in Boston?]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the
    heaviest chemical element yet known to science. The new element has been
    tentatively named "Governmentium". Governmentium has one neutron, 12
    assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 11 assistant deputy neutrons,
    giving it an atomic mass of 312.

    These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are
    surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since
    Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. How
  • This is awesome. My local LUG just did a meeting on wifi, and community wifi-projects. I hope we see a lot more initiatives like this!
  • Open access WiFi (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Is a spammers haven. Can you imagine them rubbing theyre hands in glee!
  • by ksw2 (520093) <obeyeater@@@gmail...com> on Saturday December 13, 2003 @06:43PM (#7712699) Homepage
    If you're interested in community-sponsored wifi projects, you should take a look at this [nocat.net]. It's run by Rob Flickenger, the guy who wrote Linux Server Hacks and a couple of wifi books for O'Reilly.
  • Wireless Tutorial (Score:3, Informative)

    by ksw2 (520093) <obeyeater@@@gmail...com> on Saturday December 13, 2003 @06:47PM (#7712721) Homepage
    If you are new to wireless networking, I stumbled across this tutorial [homenethelp.com].
  • Am I missing something?
  • Anyone know which hill this is on? Is it the one with the giant TV/Radio tower? IF so, i find it strange I have yet to pick up a signal while at school. My law school's library is on another hill directly across the panhandle from this hill -- direct line of sight w/ nothing blocking. I sit in that library everyday and stare at that godforsaken hill, and i've never picked up a signal..... Not that it really matters, every single seat in our law library and classrooms has ethernet. Yay technology!
  • Lies (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MrCawfee (13910)
    This lies, i have line of site to twin peaks and i can't connect, it's all lies! but i can connect to my neighbors open ap called "default"
    • Re:Lies (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      maybe you should try aiming your pringles can a little better, amateur
  • Cheesbikini (Score:3, Informative)

    by Omniscient Ferret (4208) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @07:43PM (#7713059)
    There are also a ton of restaurants & cafes in the area that offer laptop access - cheesbikini [cheesebikini.com] offers a good list of them.

    I have a flaky wireless connection at home; I'd order a cantenna with pigtail [cantenna.com] but I prefer paying cash...
  • No more bugging my friends when I'm making plans on the fly in the middle of the city and asking them to Google something for me (address, event time, etc :) I'll just have my laptop in my car...

    Hopefully other people will also find this productive... Then again, maybe we'll just have a bunch of bored jobless guys sitting in cafes and posting to craigslist personals.
    • Re:Awesome (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MikeCapone (693319)
      No more bugging my friends when I'm making plans on the fly in the middle of the city and asking them to Google something for me (address, event time, etc :) I'll just have my laptop in my car...

      Please google "driving safely" first. kthx
  • And its free for those dastardly child pornographers! Shut it down in the name of protecting the children! (but you can sign up for this $49.99 a month service over here....)
  • legalities (Score:2, Interesting)

    by null-sRc (593143)
    what are the legal implications in the event of malicious activities performed over such a open network.

    ie:

    - child porn downloading / trading ?
    - will the riaa sue for all the mp3's downloaded ?
    - an anonymous way to spam ?
    - etc :D

    unfortunatly a few bad apples always ruin the party for the rest of us. :(
  • by LoganEkz (552402) * on Saturday December 13, 2003 @09:34PM (#7713620) Journal
    There are tons of free hotspots in the New York City metro area [nycwireless.com] as well.
  • by matth (22742) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @11:03PM (#7713998) Homepage
    So exactly how are they planning on dealing with hackers and the like? Sounds like a great place to hack from! Get on.. do your stuff.. get off!

  • A few clarifications (Score:5, Informative)

    by Danton (98753) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @11:16PM (#7714057) Homepage
    ...for those few who didn't RTFA (I heard that happens on /.)

    I am one of the people building SFLAN. Our map [archive.org] is a little outdated (and the San Bruno Mountain node is in the wrong spot). SFLAN and BAWRN have some 30 nodes in as many locations in San Francisco and a few outliers in surrounding counties. If you are in San Francisco and want to try it out, Cole Street is well covered. The SSIDs are sflanNN or BARWN-xxxxx; DHCP, no WEP.

    The nodes are owned and paid for by individuals, many of whom are members of the Bay Area Wireless User Group [bawug.org]. The Internet bandwidth for SFLAN is sponsored by the Internet Archive [archive.org]. If you live in SF and want to buy a node to connect your house and your neighbors, contact us [archive.org].

    We like to keep these networks as free (as in speech and beer) as possible. And it's working out so far. I hear Tim Pozar's neighbors keep him happy with occasional pies...

  • I wonder about this financially. Who is paying for this access, if it is to be provided free, then the provider mustbe getting money somewhere, I wonder where from, pinko government commie taxes?
  • Why not set this un in Montreal? We have a mountain the middle of the city...
  • Free unprotected access to WiFi is great for spammers. Anyone know the IPs in use for this WiFi network so I can black hole them now?
  • Great, now you've gone and sent all of SF's slashdotters to this network, it's gonna keel over any second...
  • I love the idea but I worry about the first time someone commits some high profile crime from an unaccountable public network. Not that there's an inherent problem with anonymous networks, the contrary's probably more true. Still, there's less likely to be an outcry when it's small scale, or personal. A public internet in a major city means we place a lot of faith in the resolve of the courts to protect anonymity.
  • I live in Sunset district S.F. here. No Wi-Fi signals AT ALL. It geatly depends on what area of S.F. you're in. Maybe Twin Peaks or a downtown area would be a better place for this.
  • Psshh.. In my little town of Fredericton, NB we've had free wireless for over a week!

1: No code table for op: ++post

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