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Wireless Networking Hardware

Wireless APs in Homebrew Coffee Shops? 523

An anonymous reader writes "Having seen lots of complaints about the overpriced T-Mobile Wireless APs in Starbucks ($10/hr) got me thinking about setting up a wireless AP for the small, family-owned coffeeshop in my town under the tip jar model. I'm assuming ~$100 for the router, ~$500 for a PC to use to control quotas (to prevent over-zealous Kazaa users, block spammers and script kiddies and other would-be abusers) - but what software should I be using? Do enough people have 802.11a/g cards that it would be worth it to invest in that rather than an 802.11b router?" Has anyone considered making a Linux distribution for use by cybercafes, to handle wireless access and anything else such an outfit might need?

"Since this is a medium (50,000-ish) size town, and pretty much everyone in the coffee shop is a regular, would a tip jar model work? I'm figuring suggest a donation - what should I set that at?

Finally, keep in mind that the owner is not a geek - I'd be doing this when not studying (I'm a college student), so this would be set up over the summer, and most of the maintenance would be done on the weekends and/or via SSH.

Any other thoughts would be appreciated."

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Wireless APs in Homebrew Coffee Shops?

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  • by realyendor ( 32515 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:07PM (#7828270)
    Print the WEP key on the receipt, and change it daily.
  • by IronTek ( 153138 ) * on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:08PM (#7828271) Homepage
    You can get 802.11b routers for 20 bucks AR now (and why bother with g if it's a tip-jar method).

    Further, it probably doesn't even require $500 for a PC capable enough to do the job...if you have any computer shows in your area, you could probably just pick up an old (but reasonably loaded) PIII box for ~$100-$150.

    With those kinds of prices, the coffee shop should go for it!
  • by Joe U ( 443617 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:09PM (#7828290) Homepage Journal
    That's a great idea for us geeks, but too complex for the average Joe.

    Tech support would eat up too much time.
  • Keep it simple. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:10PM (#7828295)
    Speaking as a small-town WISP, I'd recommend that the coffee shop owner look at it as an advertising expense, and don't bother charging. And from a technical perspective, don't bother with bandwidth throttling, either. Just stick with 802.11b at first, too. See if it makes any difference to the shop's bottom line. If the owner thinks it's valuable, they'll keep it. If you fiddle with it endlessly, they won't see the value.
  • by Anti_Climax ( 447121 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:10PM (#7828301)
    Even if a lot of people have 802.11a/g cards, you'd probably be best served with 802.11b equipment. It's compatible with the most systems, and serving up broadband to multiple users, you'll probably still have a hard time saturating it to a noticible degree in a coffee shop setting.
    Just my $0.02
  • by isa-kuruption ( 317695 ) <kuruption@NOspaM.kuruption.net> on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:14PM (#7828334) Homepage
    Forget about making a Linux distro for this, everything you want to do is available within OpenBSD 3.4 and it's pf software. Basic packet filtering, NAT, user quotas and general bandwidth managment. OpenBSD 3.4 also comes with BIND9 and ISC's DHCP daemon for serving up IP addresses. Best of all, you can do it for the cost of a $100 PC you pick up at the local computer show (say a pentium pro or an earlier pentium II).
  • Start small (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jcsehak ( 559709 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:14PM (#7828340) Homepage
    I'd start with b, and if the service pays for itself (ie, if people are cool about the tip jar), upgrade to g later, and put a sign up like "the program's a success, so I upgraded!" That way people'll feel like their tips are really contributing.
  • Re:router (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rhys ( 96510 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:17PM (#7828374)
    Figure it's all going through a 150kb uplink and you're worried about the wireless bandwidth?
  • Thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Some guy named Chris ( 9720 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:17PM (#7828378) Journal
    First, if you don't pay more money per month for "resellable bandwidth", then you are in a legal gray area. Your generic office class DSL service is not resellable, so I'd avoid actually charging. You might be able to get away with a tip jar, but I'd forget about charging for the service.

    Giving it away free also simplifies administration, and can be seen as an easy and cheap promotion to attract customers.

    Secondly, with 802.11g routers costing $79, cost isn't much of an issue. This is a business expense, go ahead and pony up the $30 extra bucks for a decent piece of equipment.
  • Port blocking? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by goon america ( 536413 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:19PM (#7828396) Homepage Journal
    to prevent over-zealous Kazaa users

    Overzealous Kazaa users? There is some amount of Kazaa usage you'd allow in your coffeee shop? You don't really need a PC to do sophisticated packet filtering... why not just block the ports that Kazaa uses? I also don't know how you could "filter" vaguely defined script kiddie activity.

    My wireless-basestation-included broadband router cost $55 with a $20 rebate, and you can block ports and ban MAC addresses with it (you have to assign the MAC address to a certain ip range, and then block that ip range), btw.

  • Why PC? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by po8 ( 187055 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:21PM (#7828413)

    Seems to me that the PC is just another expensive thing to break. Look for a high-end wireless router that will supply whatever functionality you need in a self-contained box, and leave the PC out of it, at least until some need actually presents itself. You can probably find a decent router for under $100 at current prices; still much cheaper and simpler than $20 router + $200 PC.

  • by StarManta ( 692541 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:21PM (#7828419) Homepage Journal
    On a side note, g IS compatible with both a and b... but if my college cafeteria is any indication, only a small portion of users will bring their laptop to eat/drink with them. (I'm often the only one in the 200+ person cafeteria with his laptop open, and this is in a school where most students are *required* to have apple laptops with airport.) So, because of the small number of people using it, you probably wouldn't notice a difference between b and g in bandwidth. I'd go with b.
  • Re:No PC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Graff ( 532189 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:26PM (#7828458)
    If anybody is hogging bandwidth, you can just tap them on the shoulder and tell them to knock it off.

    Except when the hog is a neighbor who has discovered the free access and is running a Kazaa file sharing client or doing some other high-bandwidth use activity. Remember, this is wireless - the person using the bandwidth might not always be visible to you.
  • by damm0 ( 14229 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:28PM (#7828484) Homepage Journal
    If the person asking the question knew enough about the unix way to use OpenBSD, they wouldn't have asked the question in the first place.
  • by Gudlyf ( 544445 ) <gudlyf&realistek,com> on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:30PM (#7828504) Homepage Journal
    "...at least force people to authenticate via a "yes I won't do stupid stuff" model..."

    Not to mention you'll probably want all sorts of disclaimers for people to outright accept if they're willing to risk using your network. Someone could possibly find their account had been hacked and assume it was your "mom-and-pop operation" that mishandled the data floating through the air, or that the server you setup got hacked, allowing all data to be sniffed -- with WEP, the data through the air is encrypted, but unless the user is using SSL or some other encryption, the data from the server to the internet is not encrypted.

  • Re:Survey (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tenebrious1 ( 530949 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:31PM (#7828506) Homepage
    I lived in a small town of 50,000, and for several years I hung out at the local diner which was the closest thing to a local coffee shop. In 10 years, I was the only one to show up there with any regularity with a laptop since I was there to do more work than socialize.

    I'm one who can't sit at home and get any work done, I need background noise. Still, in all those years, I very rarely needed to connect to the internet. If I did, I'd use my cell phone, just to check some facts but it wasn't a necessity.

    From my experience, people, in general, don't want to surf the web when they're sitting at a coffee shop. They're mostly there to eat, drink, or socialize. At least the regulars are there to do so, which is why they're regulars. If there's an internet terminal, sure some will hop on; mostly those who need to check email or don't have internet access at home. Surfing the web seems to be a "personal" pasttime, which is why most internet cafe's died out, people just preferred to surf from home (if they had access).

    Laptops are still expensive. WiFi is still in the realm of geek, slowly making it's way out to the world.

    I would definitely check with the customers. The important thing is to find out how many people would use it regularly and pay regularly. I expect you'll have a lot of interest the first few months, but it'll drop off as people find they really don't need to surf the web in the 30 minutes they're at the coffee shop chatting with friends. You may only end up with a handful of dedicated users, who now sit at the coffee shop for hours.

    Which brings in another problem; it's not making any money for the coffee shop if they come in and order one cup of coffee and sit there for a few hours. Coffee shop owners need to make money, and count on a turnover of tables. Have you asked the shop owners? They might not be too keen on having people around all day who just take up tables but don't order more than a cup or two of coffee. They'll dislike it even more if they have "endless" cups of coffee...

  • by iiioxx ( 610652 ) <iiioxx@gmail.com> on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:31PM (#7828510)
    The way I see it, you should just forget about WEP keys, filtering, tip jars, and all of that crap. You are in the coffee shop business, not the cybercafe business.

    Here's what I think you should do:
    1) Get the cheapest DSL connection you can find in your area.
    2) Buy as few low-end 802.11b AP's as it takes to provide coverage to your shop and store front (assuming you have tables out front or something).
    3) Configure the AP's for public access, and use your shop's name for your SSID.

    This will provide a decent level of Internet service for your customers with the minimum of maintenance and effort on your part. Most importantly, it will let you focus on your core business, which is coffee and sundries. Think of the Internet service purely as an amenity, like piped-in music or a TV in the corner, and treat it as a cost of doing business, not a profit center. Don't worry about how good the Internet service is, just concentrate on the coffee. Most people won't complain (loudly, anyway) about the quality of an amenity they are getting for free. Just set the appropriate expectations. The key phrase is... "best effort".

    This will accomplish the real objective: bringing people into your store to buy your product, and keeping them there as long as possible (because hopefully, the longer they stay, the more product they buy), while at the same time minimizing your cost and overhead of providing the amenity.
  • by MythoBeast ( 54294 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:37PM (#7828574) Homepage Journal
    When deciding if you're going to bother with 802.11b or g, you need to ask yourself what you're going to use it for. It is unlikely that your inbound pipeline will be more than 12mbps, and it's also unlikely that the users will want to spend a lot of time swapping files. Intranet gaming also takes much less bandwidth than this for the ten or so machines that the typical router will support. With that in mind, 802.11b should be more than adequate.

    A warning, though. Don't go into this assuming that it'll be maintenance free. I run one of these for the local neighbors, and they're regularly calling me up to find out what's wrong with the connection. Run it for a month or so without charging people. This will both hook your customers on the idea of having it available, and give you the time to figure out the best location of your router, how much regular maintenance your system will take, and if it's worth your effort.

  • Horsecrap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by doc_traig ( 453913 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:38PM (#7828579) Homepage Journal
    My wife saw the ads (targeted toward your average laptop-toter, it seemed) for wireless access at Starbucks, so, deciding it might be a nice break to work from there instead of the house, she went only to change her mind when she discovered the price. My point is that if she was handed a receipt and told "Here's your change and your WEP key", she would have said, "Uh... what?"

  • by tomwhore ( 10233 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:39PM (#7828588) Homepage Journal
    From real world building ( thanks PTP) here are some rough numbers as far as cost

    Old 133cpu computers + Linksys wrt54g + 12dbOmni = Low Cost Wireless Networking

    Old 133 Computer with a nic 1gigHD,soundcard, etc=about 40$ from freegeek.org

    WRT54g = about 80$

    12dbOmni= about 40$

    parts(mount, cable,etc)= about 40$

    Linux = about $0

    Total Cost = about 200$

    This gets you a set up that can server some web pages, act as an Auth or Splash gateway, get some great coverage and even play up some mp3s.

    Coffee house cool meets DIY down home goodness.

  • some ideas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by r ( 13067 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:40PM (#7828594)
    first off, long term maintenance will be a problem. once you move on to a better job, the owners will have to deal with the networking themselves. so build them a system that's hands-off (ie. doesn't need patches :), or that then can administer themselves.

    i'd stay away from deploying your own linux-pc-based solution for as long as you can. a hardware box that includes all functionality would clearly be best, even if slightly more expensive. eg. a wireless router with bandwidth management. something that, once set up, remains easy to use. unfortunately i don't know of any specific models that would do exactly what you want. you could always talk to the manager of some starbucks, or borders bookstore, and ask them what they use. :)

    second, i like the idea of not going with the subscription model. my local coffeehouse just deployed wifi (using facefive [facefive.com]), and when they did a test run for free, it caused quite a stir - a lot of people were coming in for the internet, and i think buying more. then they switched to the subscription model (only barely cheaper than starbucks), and it stopped. :(

    and while anecdotal evidence proves nothing, i just mean to say that a tip-jar model, even if it doesn't bring explicit income to cover wifi costs, should cause increased traffic, especially from students. this should translate to higher sales, and most likely also longer table occupancy. you should do a test run for three months, and see whether it pays off.

    and when you do that, please post the results! :)
  • by Perl-Pusher ( 555592 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:45PM (#7828636)
    Just block the IP ports. You can block mail ports , kaaza etc. Hell block everything except http,https,ftp and DNS.That will stop anyone from abusing it, it can usually be setup in the wireless gateway/router.

    I have a linksys system in my home that is working fine in that capacity, plus by putting the router in a location low only about 4-5 feet off the ground, you pretty much limit the working range to just inside your establishment. If you use 2 routers one wireless one not, you can block access to the companies computers to the wireless users again it can be done on the routers themselves, no extra PC needed.

  • Best ones are free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rblancarte ( 213492 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:47PM (#7828648) Homepage
    I go to one of these places listed (JPs Java House) - they have free unlimited 802.11b access for anyone. Very nice.

    Overall, I think that your idea is great. I think you are making a bit more complex than it needs to be. If you want to have quotas that is fine, but why not just put up a 802.11g router (they are cheap) and allow open access. If you want to make sure that people buy stuff to get access - they do what another post says - WEP key on reciept, changed daily (sure, not hard to get around, but more of an honor system). And sure - put up a tip jar - clearly labeled with something like "FOR THE SUPPORT OF OPEN INTERNET ACCESS" or something like that. Heck, with this setup, you could be ready to go tomorrow (not next summer).

    I say just go simple. If you make access easy and pretty much open - people will come in just for that. Especially in a college campus area - simple and pretty much unlimited will probably draw a solid crowd.

  • by HoldenCaulfield ( 25660 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:49PM (#7828667) Journal
    The coffee house I've been frequenting (Mudhouse in Springfield, MO) has free WiFi for anyone that comes in. No WEP, no fees, no nothing. In fact, they just have a consumer SMC access point, and I'm guessing that whoever set it up was a non-techy. Anyone can access the admin functions by using the web interface, and while there is an admin password, if you know the name of the coffeeshop, you could change that too.

    So how does this work? How come they haven't been hacked or had tons of b/w leeches? I think all this works because the coffee house was a pretty decent community to start with. It serves the local college kids, is part of the monthly art walk (they act as a gallery for a local artist), and you'll usually see/hear a group of teenage/college-age church groups, and lots of people who just want to sit and chat and have coffee. There's an honor system, and it seems to work. (Case in point would be my accessing the admin functions, but not changing anything, just taking a peek to see what kind of setup they were running.)

    I'd estimate the coffeeshop seats maybe 60 people, and you'll see maybe 3 or 4 laptops on a Friday or Saturday night. The model probably works cause the kind of atmosphere the coffee shop has - they have board games you can borrow, and there's almost always a group playing Scrabble, and usually a group playing Skip-Bo or some other card game. They also have two large bookshelves filled with books (it seems to be a popular site for people to release books from bookcrossing.com).

    I'd imagine in a town of 50k, just plugging in a WAP would work fine. All these people suggesting traffic shaping, changing WEP keys daily, etc etc might want to consider that a social solution might work just as well as a technical one in this case.
  • Re:Thoughts (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:07PM (#7828812)
    Just letting customers (i.e. individuals who are not employees or contractors of the business) is against most business ISP T&Cs, and can get the coffee shop into a world of trouble.

    The most likely outcome is the ISP hitting them with a bill for the bandwidth they've used (probably at a low monthly flat-rate) at a "resale" price, which is probably much more than they could afford.

    And they're much more exposed to this or worse action than a poor "judgement proof" college student. The poster mentioned that the owners are not "geeks", and they're also probably not lawyers, so try not to get them in legal hot water.

    (Sorry about AC, away from my main computer)
  • by BenjyD ( 316700 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:09PM (#7828822)
    Yes, it is possible to get answers to many of the questions with google. But why not Ask Slashdot? The Slashdot readership is still, despite a lot of wannabes, in general extremely knowledgeable. I imagine many other readers have implemented this kind of thing and have (*gasp*) real-world experience of how this sort of thing works out. Good luck finding that on Google anywhere but on mailing lists and Slashdot.
    By posting on the Slashdot front page and collecting a few hundred comments, the story poster gets his question answered many times over, and everyone else considering implementing this gets a large page of ideas.
  • Re:Thoughts (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dorktrix ( 148287 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:17PM (#7828876) Homepage
    Also, as anyone who survived the dot com bust realizes, businesses should stick to their core competency. A coffee shop should not become an ISP. Offer Internet access to attract more customers and sell more coffee, not to make money on the Internet access. Consider it an investment in your core business of attracting coffee-drinking customers.

    I for one know that I end up drinking a few more cappuccinos when I see 300 new messages in my email inbox :)
  • by InfiniteWisdom ( 530090 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:37PM (#7829034) Homepage
    How about this... start out with a b access point which, as others have mentioned you can pick up for $20 or so. Have a little jar soliciting donations for an upgrade. If enough people are interested you'll soon have the cash for a new accesspoint.

    As I recently discovered when I counted the change that had accumulated in the coin compartment in my car, bouncing back loose change can add up pretty quick.
  • by Nykon ( 304003 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @03:03PM (#7829256) Homepage
    A tip jar model might not hurt but I wouldnt not count that into your cost/earning budget. The first step would be to just get an 802.11b AP in, and and wait to see if people use it before you add a PC into the mix, unless you can just build or buy an older one for $100. As many failed Wifi providers have found is that people do not want to pay $10 /hr to use it, or pay at all. The best model is to offer the wifi for free. You then ask "how do you make back your money?". With in this model, you offer the wifi for free, which means more people will come to use it, and the people already using it will stay longer. As customers stay they are likely to buy food or more drinks.
  • Re:Your mom. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by KevetS ( 600647 ) <kevets@@@gmail...com> on Monday December 29, 2003 @03:35PM (#7829490) Homepage Journal
    Mod parent up. I'm not sure about configuring WEP on a PC, but on my Powerbook if there's a wireless network in range that I'm trying to join (Airport menu -> name of wireless network) and it doesn't already have the WEP key stored in my keychain, it will pop up a window asking me what the proper key is (along with a drop menu to choose which level of encryption). Simply type in the key, hit ok and *gasp* it's working!

    All incrediby easy if you can 1. connect to a wireless network and 2. read.
  • yes they are (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SethJohnson ( 112166 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @03:39PM (#7829519) Homepage Journal

    Here's a couple observations from the time I've spent in some of Austin's free wireless cafes (Flightpath and Bouldin Creek Coffee Shop)...

    Another benefit of free access is that the employees of the coffee shop don't have to provide any form of technical support for the service. If it don't work, oh well.

    Speaking of the employees, I don't think it's a very good idea to use the tip jar you described "FOR THE SUPPORT OF OPEN INTERNET ACCESS". This competes with the tip jar for the employees. Not nice and also likely to be pilfered by the employees.
  • by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 ) <tmh@nodomain.org> on Monday December 29, 2003 @03:48PM (#7829588) Homepage
    A PC will be more controllable - you can monitor usage, etc. I have a linux box running HostAP rather than a hardware access point, which is a really flexible solution (not many access points out there have stateful firewalls on :) plus I can do things like rotate the WEP keys to stop people breaking into it.

    The security bit is probably not so much of an issue for a cafe, but monitoring access (and if you do decided to charge a small fee, that'll be essential) is really useful.
  • by ckaminski ( 82854 ) <slashdot-nospam@ ... m minus physicis> on Monday December 29, 2003 @03:58PM (#7829680) Homepage
    Traffic is traffic. They're there to buy/consume your product and fill seats encouraging people to congregate in your store. You want to stop the trouble makers (nessus runners, rootkit script-kiddies, and guys outside in cars hijacking your connection to attack www.whitehouse.gov).

  • by BroncoInCalifornia ( 605476 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @04:05PM (#7829726)
    I go to one of these shops while my daughter takes riding lessons. It is First Street Coffee in Gilroy, CA.

    They just have a DSL modem and an Apple Airport. No computer etc. This works just fine. People are not there long enough for major file sharing. I did download Open Office once while I was there.

  • Re:No PC (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sootman ( 158191 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @05:31PM (#7830474) Homepage Journal
    "...keep an eye out for out-of-hours connections..."

    Or, better yet, unplug* the WAP at night--100% hackproof!

    * even easier to maintain: put it in an outlet that's connected to a wall-mounted lightswitch-style switch. At night, turn it off with the lights.
  • Finances (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FuegoFuerte ( 247200 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @09:07PM (#7831888)
    Whatever you do, get the money first (from the coffee shop). I was going to set up wireless access for a local coffee shop, bought a (really inexpensive) PC to set it all up with, started work on the PC (software configuration, etc), and then the owner never went through with her half of the deal, which was to get the DSL installed (I even have her the number to call and the plan to ask for). Eventually, it ended up I never got the money for the PC (but I sold it to someone else for what it cost me, so no huge loss except time) and the system never got installed. The coffee shop still has no wireless access, and the coffee's become more expensive than anywhere else in the area so I no longer go there.

    Moral of the story: Get money first. Make sure the owner is really going to follow through with the idea. If they aren't comfortable giving you money first, make sure you have some kind of written agreement showing they know how much it will cost and agree to pay you that amount.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson