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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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  • cafe software (Score:3, Interesting)

    by computerme ( 655703 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:08PM (#7828280)
    this is not exaclty what you asked for but if you start to add more internet stations to the mix maybe you will need something like this:
  • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:11PM (#7828308)
    Anybody wired enough to feel they need their laptop with them when they are drinking coffee at a mom & pop cafe is probably one of us geeks... at least, enough of one to know how to set a WEP key.
  • by stuartkahler ( 569400 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:23PM (#7828433)
    I assume that you are doing this to bring more people into you shop or keep them there longer, rather than trying to make a killing selling the net access...

    I would suggest changing the password daily, and giving it away free to people who spend $5+ (?) when they come in. Anyone else can pay 50 cents extra for it. It would be sort of an honor thing for people to not pick up a slip laying around and surf free.

    I think anything that requires you to give out individual passwords would require you to raise your price on access by $1 just to cover the administration. If you don't change passwords regularly, people in neighboring businesses are likely to start using your connection.

    Keep in mind that you will be providing a connection that could be popular with people trading kiddie porn if you are not careful. I would recommend putting a bandwidth cap of 128/16kbps or 256/16kbps to keep the roaches off you net.

    Hopefully you already realize that you will be violating the TOS for any household internet account. Buying a business account will likely double the ISP cost.
  • by djqed ( 640717 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:24PM (#7828443)
    I don't even think the coffee shop would need to charge anything for it - no tip jar or anything. I go regularly to a cafe in my city (SF) which has free WiFi. The cafe is nearly always comfortably full - not impossible to get a table, but most seats are taken. Meanwhile, other cafes around town which charge for access or have no access at all are nearly empty during a weekday. I think the increased business from having the service would pay for itself in one or two days of extra sales. You could argue that WiFi encourages people to sit there for hours on 1 coffee, but personally if I'm there for a few hours or more I get a sandwich and a cookie in addition to my 2 drinks, which I would never pay for at this coffee shop otherwise.
  • Re:cafe software (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tindur ( 658483 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:25PM (#7828448)
    My mother has a small cafe and she is getting an ADSL line there. Does a solution exist for putting Linux and a browser on a pc so that the guests could surf but not do any harm? Could you start a browser instead of a window manager? Would if be possible to use codes for surfing? You wouldn't want any one person to hog the machine...
  • by nehril ( 115874 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:28PM (#7828483)
    a local coffeeshop does just this. they dont use WEP (useless overhead) and it's all 802.11b (why go for the lower range of a or g when you are only sharing a 1.5m DSL uplink anyway??). at the register they have a bunch of preprinted username/password cards you buy for $8 (they are obviously computer generated, each userid/password is unique). $8 buys you an hour, $20 buys you an all-day access card, and I think $30 buys you an all-month.

    The first time you connect to any website you are redirected to a local webserver that prompts you for your name/pass. you key it in, and now your mac or ip is "authorized," and the rest of your connection is completely unrestricted. You cant do anything else until you login to their web server, and once you log in your ID is "used up."

    pretty slick, since it requires zero geekness for whoever is at the register, they just sell cards like any other product. I'm pretty sure their backend is based on nocatauth
  • by Sefert ( 723060 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:35PM (#7828553)
    Havn't you ever noticed that there's only ever one or two comfy chairs in starbucks? When people are only dropping 1-5 bucks, you can't have them sitting there taking up real estate for 3 hours. Turning customers over is a huge challenge for coffee shops - you want to maintain the appearance of being a friendly place to come and have a coffee, but dont want 20 customers sucking up your seats for the entire day either. Being that you are in a smaller locale though - this may be less of a problem than for a coffee shop in a major metropolis dropping thousands a month in rent for 800 square feet.
  • by nolife ( 233813 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:36PM (#7828562) Homepage Journal
    Don't be so sure, geeks can figure it out but the business types that have wireless will not. We have wireless in our office. We set the users up for use in our office but we get tons of calls because they can not get it working at the airport, client sites, Starbucks, hotels, and even at their own house. Some of them even have problems getting the wired rj45 working at those same locations which requires no configuration.
  • College Students (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RabidChipmunk ( 19279 ) <stuart@[ ] ['sub' in gap]> on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:38PM (#7828584) Homepage Journal
    This is no longer true. I went to a comedy show at a local coffee house and there were at least six "stylish" females there with laptops. [No males with computers.] They weren't there for the show. They were there to write papers and socialize while they did it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:42PM (#7828606)
    it would be insane to use a PCI card. use a Accesspoint and then an ethernet card in the pc.

    cheaper, 802.11b accesspoints are $20.00 at best buy. pci cards that are linux compatable, are much harder to find, and are usually more expensive.

    never EVER use a wireless pci card for anything except long range link points.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:43PM (#7828623)
    Some POP daemons let you send mail. It's an odd hack that lets you use the authenticated connection to send mail without doing the pop-before-SMTP thing.

    So, sniff someone's POP session, replay it, then use that command to send some spam. It's far fetched, but it could work.
  • Re:No PC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mike260 ( 224212 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @01:58PM (#7828743)
    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.

    It should be pretty easy to spot this kind of thing...keep an eye out for out-of-hours connections to the wireless access point and block their MAC address.
  • by thoolihan ( 611712 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:01PM (#7828757) Homepage
    This shouldn't be too hard. Let's look at the issues:

    PC (FOR CONTROL) - the owner probably already has one. spreadsheets for payroll etc. Many ap's can be controlled with just a browser.
    TECH SUPPORT (FOR CUSTOMERS) - don't do it. free internet access, but customers must set themselves up. Besides, if someone is lost, they could always ask someone else with a laptop to give a hand.
    SECURITY - two options. As many have pointed out, WEP Key on receipt. Or, just have open access (sounds crazy, but so is anybody who submits sensitive information to a non SSL page). Either way, have a disclaimer posted.
    QUOTAS (referencing the Kazaa statemnt) - port blocking would be easier. Still, I would wait and see if this is really an issue.
    MONTHLY COST OF INTERNET ACCESS - That's the real cost that matters to the owner. That and whatever you charge him to support the thing.

  • by Ryosen ( 234440 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:02PM (#7828768)
    As stated below, modifying the WEP key is beyond a large percentage of users. A better approach would be to use your gateway box as a proxy server (which you would be doing anyway) and use a common logon id. Change the password for the account daily and print the day's user id and password on the receipt.

    Users are much more familiar with this approach and it is no more complex (less actually) than the revolving WEP.
  • by rblancarte ( 213492 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:07PM (#7828809) Homepage
    Hell, now that I was thinking about it (and reading down some more) - this is more complex than it needs to be.

    Heck, I would just provide the access via a solid wireless router. I would make it free and open to all. Block ports of known things you don't want running (KaZaa etc). That is all I would do. I would also do the tip jar just to get some extra cash to help pay for the access (but don't expect too much). And finally I would put up a clearly visible, but not obtrusive, sign that says "Free internet access provided. Security not provided." Or something to that effect that would basically let people know, if you use my access, I am not responsible what you do or what happens to your computer.

    I would not worry too much about quotas or stuff like that.

    One more thing - I would spend some solid money on the router - the coffee house I go to (JPs) sometimes will choke up and need to be restarted. They just have a simple Linksys one.
  • by Bretski ( 312912 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:15PM (#7828860)
    That's a trick a local coffee shop uses here. Free network so you'll stay an hour or two, but you can't charge your laptop to stay longer than that!
  • by HgAtIDesignDotNet ( 736270 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:22PM (#7828910) Homepage
    This one seems to work with exactly your concept in a large city:
  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:23PM (#7828917) Journal
    The College Perk [] coffeehouse in College Park, MD, has free wireless.

    Another place in the area told me "we don't have wireless because I don't want people coming in and just using the Net and not buying anything."

    OK, well, guess where I buy my coffee now?

    Also at College Perk, I organized a Chat [] with the Baghdad Internet Cafe [] that brought in many customers.
  • Somewhat false info (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:27PM (#7828952)
    BTW, the T-Mobile service (i.e., the Starbucks wireless) isn't $10/hour; it's $7 for one hour, $10 for a one-day pass, or $30-40/month if you sign up for the monthly plan (for $30 you're limited to one geographic area, i.e., "the Bay area" or "the Seattle area"; $40 gives you roaming).
  • Re:Thoughts (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:39PM (#7829046)
    Talk to your local ISPs. They might be willing to allow the resellable connection (or even provide a connection) in exchange for advertising and/or a percent of the internet revenue (in the situation where you are charging $X/hr).

    I work for a small ISP and this is something we've looked into.
  • Your mom. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Heisenbug ( 122836 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:40PM (#7829063)
    Yo momma has a wireless laptop.

    At least, mine does. So does anyone else who has a recent Mac. She might well wind up in such a place, if she was travelling with her laptop, which of course she does -- and in that case, she would surely be able to handle a simple web proxy form, but not a WEP password.
  • by curtlewis ( 662976 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:45PM (#7829107)
    Don't block SMTP or POP thank you. Block my mail and I won't be a happy wi fi customer.
  • Blocking ports (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29, 2003 @02:46PM (#7829122)
    I don't know about blocking smtp ports... Yes, it would keep out spammers, but it would also keep out legitimate e-mail users. I'd be pretty unhappy if I lugged a laptop out to a cafe only to find I can't sent e-mail except through some cruddy webmail account. Same goes for POP3/IMAP and checking my mail.

    Also, I'm probably in a fairly small minority here, but I'd want to be able to ssh to my home computer, especially if I'm on the road. I have gotten so reliant on ssh and especially sftp - I constantly forget needed files, because I know I can just sftp home and grab anything I forget to bring with me.

  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @03:16PM (#7829355) Journal
    The business model for coffee-shop wireless isn't the tip jar - it's the $3 latte, and the extra coffee people drink while they're hanging around using it, and the extra pastries. That's also why you've got the newspapers, the comfy chairs, the shelf of Really Bad Science Fiction books, the chess set. If you've also got a PC in the corner for people who didn't bring their lap top, maybe charge for using that.

    WEP isn't necessary for your customers - the main reason coffee-shops use it is to restrict access to paying customers, and you're not doing that - you're selling them friendliness and coffee and chair space and pastries that aren't too sticky to eat next to a computer. If you've got an issue with one of your neighbors sucking down bandwidth, that's different, of course, but setting WEP is an obstacle for users, especially if they've got their own WEP settings for their home or office.

    Security and quotas are less necessary than you'd expect, as long as your DSL ISP is good. Start open, and maybe monitor usage and see what problems you get, rather than starting locked down tight, i.e. use your router's security features rather than buying a PC to start with, unless you also want to have the PC for customers who don't bring laptops. (And if your ISP is the uptight, policy-heavy types, running free or especially paid wireless in your store probably violates their policies, plus they're probably already restricting SMTP.) For consumer DSL ISPs, I'm quite happy with, Speakeasy's also good and has nationwide coverage, and ever Earthlink's not too bad. Business DSL providers will charge a bit more, and tend to have flexible policies. Cable Modems are a much better match technically, but are run by terminally clueless paranoids who don't understand their business models, so you can't use them except maybe with a higher-priced business-class service.

    You're unlikely to have much problem with spammers - geeks hate them, and have fun imagining scenarios like drive-by spammers, but in a small town, it's more of a know-your-customer thing. If you're in a college town, or get lots of high-school kids, you may need to worry more about crackers using your system. On the other hand, you need to leave things open for gamers, and the problem there is making sure the high-school kids keep buying enough drinks to make up for chair space. KaZaa's not really much of a problem, as long as your ISP doesn't ban it, because users are transient enough that they won't be doing much uploading, just leeching.

  • by frostman ( 302143 ) on Monday December 29, 2003 @03:17PM (#7829361) Homepage Journal
    What if your cash register won't easily print custom strings on the receipt? Or you don't want your staff messing with the cash register settings?

    Assuming you have your router/firewall nicely blocking abusable ports, you could just write the WEP key on a card by the tip jar. Smaller than the "Support Community Internet" sign of course ;-)

    A lot of routers support ASCII keys, so the staff can think up funny ones to use and the customers won't have to sit by the tip jar while entering the key.

    As for "no access without purchase" or somesuch, think of it like reading the magazines. If someone plops down to surf and is too cheap to buy a coffee, it's at the staff's discretion to tolerate them or not. Same for excessive downloading - just like if someone's hogging all the magazines, it's usually enough to just point it out to them.

    I would also put a nice silent little mini-itx system somewhere so the staff can easliy change the WEP key a couple times a day and can check e-mail when bored. And I'd have that little station free for customers too, just don't hog it.

    A good way to prevent hogging of a free terminal in a cafe is to make it a little conspicuous. You have to stand up to use it, and there's no way to really hide what you're doing from others. Have a place to put down your coffee but no workspace. I've seen this done and it works great - people check their email or look something up on the net and don't stand there forever preventing others from using it.

    As for the technology, 802.11b is probably enough for any normal sized community cafe, but you'd want g for bigger college-town setups.

    I think it's a Good Thing for the customers who don't already know about WEP to at least learn enough to change the key. Print up a little flyer with simple explanations and a bit of propaganda about open-source and community networking, etiquette, etc.

    And of course the little stand-up terminal should run a sweet desktop Linux (or *BSD), which would likely be a first impression of free software for a lot of people.

    You're ready to go for under $500 plus the broadband fees.

    Man, now I just need to open a cafe!
  • by vees ( 10844 ) <> on Monday December 29, 2003 @03:42PM (#7829541) Homepage Journal

    I agree completely! Remember the ComputerWorld article about wireless access at Panera Bread restaurants []?

    In fact, Shaich considers free Wi-Fi to be such an essential marketing tool that he dismisses any discussion of ROI. "What is the ROI on a bathroom?" asked Shaich, pointing out that the day of pay restrooms in restaurants has long since passed.

    Perhaps just amend the note on the tip jar: "For excellent service AND wireless access!"

  • watch for lawsuits! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iamhassi ( 659463 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @01:07AM (#7832978) Journal
    When I went to the library a week ago to use the internet I had to sign an agreement basically stating I wouldn't sue the library for any information I found online.

    I laughed, but they were completely serious. Apparently libraries have been sued before [] because of the content of the internet! But if the library installs filters, they violate first admendment rights. []

    I know this doesn't help with your decision, but you might want to have some sort of disclaimer up stating the cafe is not responsible for the content of the internet.

  • Re: Why block IRC (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RT Alec ( 608475 ) * < ... minus physicist> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @04:43AM (#7833602) Homepage Journal

    We thought about this one. In my experience, IRC is used as a conduit for zombies, viruses, and the like far more than it is used for people chatting. To be specific, I have noted blocked IRC traffic (ingress and egress) in the firewall logs, yet never once had anyone complain that something was not working. This includes several office environments where I have set up the network, including the firewall. I figured the one or two people who need (or even want) it would shout about it and I would let their machine through. But to date, not one such request.

    In the situations where I could examine the internal computers that were attempting to connect via IRC ports, I always found them loaded with spyware and/or viruses. Always. A round with an up to date anti-virus tool, as well as Ad-aware or Spybot, and the IRC traffic ceased.

    I have nothing against IRC, but my experience has been that not many people use it. If you come down to Lake Anne, let me know and we'll see what we can do. I opened up the VPN ports and protocols after someone requested it, and it made sense.

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.