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New WasabiNet Website!

posted Jun 22, 2012, 11:38 PM by Wasabinet Gogogo   [ updated Jun 24, 2012, 3:23 PM ]

We've upgraded our public website!  Please visit it @

WasabiNet on KSDK 5

posted Oct 25, 2010, 6:17 PM by Ben West   [ updated Oct 25, 2010, 6:20 PM ]

KSDK, a local TV station, recorded this interview with Minerva and myself in May of this year.  The clip aired earlier this month.

WasabiNet on KSDK

Thie video from 10/14 is now on Youtube!

Wireless Summit @ Vienna Day 3

posted Aug 14, 2010, 3:35 AM by Ben West   [ updated Aug 14, 2010, 9:05 AM ]

The author is now into his third day at the International Summit for Community Wireless, being held at Tech Gate in Vienna, Austria. This trip was made possible with a generous travel stipend granted to the author by the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative.

Highlighted Talks:

A recipe for Digital Inclusion
Ben West, of WasabiNet
Josh King, of

Notable points from Josh King:
- Was able to qualify for NTIA stimulus funds to trench fiber in UC!
- Important to organize lots of neat Makerspace events to establish a large volunteer base.  This helps sustain staff availability for more essential services like the computer help desk.
- Deploying computers to low-income families is only effective when coupled with basic digital literacy training.
- Having a public space (the UC-IMC building) has greatly helped solidify the role of wifi mesh, and additional services like the help desk, in the Urbana-Champaign area.

The author's WasabiNet presentation (PDF).

Where to from Here: Next Steps for Community Networks
L. Aaron Kaplan, of FunkFeuer. *
Vic Hayes, Senior Research Fellow at the Delft University of Technology, and "Father of Wifi"

Funkfeuer, for example, decided to limit their growth rate, so that people who wish to host new nodes must go through some training and gain acquaintance with the technology.
- I.e. should Funkfeuer be a public service, or more intended as a tech resource group.

Tech geeks often like to build out experimental networks just to prove it's possible.  However, interest may wane once the network is operational and stable.

Acknowledge there are multiple groups occupying the space for Community Wifi, which each have their own cultural and philosophical dimensions.
- Hacker community: motivation is often hacking itself, other motivations tend to be secondary.
- Community wifi groups: usually formed for social reasons, e.g. enhance community identity.  Prominent examples: Athens Wireless and
- Rural areas: form based on shared lack of adequate broadband infrastructure

There is a strong need to acknowledge existing community wifi nets that have proved to be viable, e.g. and Athens Wireless, and perhaps start to consolidate software/hardware/firmware choices to encourage interoperability.
- By extension, also create a uniform node database **, to be shared/updated by community wifi nets across the globe. => many raised hands in support of thisAn example of this:
- The IS4CWN gatherings have been underway since 2004, there has been lots of growth, along with stagnation and even failed networks, but perhaps not enough common adoption.
- Ideally this could converge into a full, out-of-the-box solution for community nets that can be mailed to anywhere in the world.  But, this should not deprive communities opportunity to learn technology, i.e. become self-sufficient, while also avoiding creation of a vulnerable monoculture.
- Possibly even petition for a common Top Level Domain, e.g. http://mymeshnetwork.wl

Besides the topics raised above, what is our wishlist?
  • A very big thing not to forget is KISS = keep it simple (stupid).
  • Develop common scheme for guest access to community wifi nets.
  • Better cooperation with efforts for community fiber, i.e. for collaboratively owned uplinks.
  • Collaborative lobbying for favorable spectrum allocation, a la efforts of the Open Spectrum Alliance, and in so doing push for open access (no mandated encryption or auth) to such spectrum.
  • Better sharing of accrued legal advice, since community wifi nets often project themselves into grey areas legally by running open networks.
  • Form purchasing groups to enable bulk equipment purchases, lower prices.
  • More work in ICT security.  Prevalence of botnets, torrent, and other distasteful aspects of Internet as encouraging formation of more borders: firewalls, restrictive legislation/policiing, or even dark nets.  Community wiifi nets can help push against this trend of balkanizing the Internet.
* = Aaron Kaplan photo credit Brough Turner.
** = Node map photo credit Matt Westervelt

Community Wireless - Placing Women's Empowerment Back into the Gender Equality Framework
Alison Powell, SSHRS Doctoral Fellow, Oxford University
Suchisnata Sahoo, Gender and ICT Project, IRMA-India
Kamilla Kovacs, Development and Communications Director, Media Access Project

A persistent, global problem of women being isolated from the mainstream economy, not just information and communication technology (ICT).  In particular, they are excluded from knowledge networking, and the IRMA Gender and ICT Project has a mission to mitigate such exclusion.

  • Creating Class of Women Entrepreneurs
  • Changing Stereotypic Roles
Ways forward:
  • Creation of Intermediary Organizations
  • Imparting Technical Skills and Education
  • Creating Virtual Networks and Remote Volunteers
  • Setting up Prototype ICT Models
  • Building Partnerships
  • Focusing on Research and Innovation
IRMA's general approach is to identify specific villages that are acknowledged backwaters for full gender empowered, and then to install ICT centers (e.g. computer spaces, Internet access) at those locations, coupled with technology training, to help improve economic productivity of women in the area.  LIkewise, this also lets women connect with peer groups, both personal and professional, so they may gain advice and knowledge otherwise unavailable in their villages.

At present, five ICT centers established, with both volunteer and paid staff.

another fundamental problem is that the framework of ICT itself is heavily gendered.  Technological citizenship is still skewed by gender.

Observation from the Debian Women's Project: The mixed environment affects the behavior of other people.  This project encountered similar experiences as happened when women were first allowed into Antarctic research stations: reckless "cowboy" behavior by male researchers went down substantially with the introduction of mixed gender population.

Another inspiring project where the technology is not male-identified: Open Source Embroidery

Kamilla: open question about what people's incentives are for building or joining community wireless networks.  A strong theme is community empowerment, often inspired by concerns over social justice.

From the FCC's standpoint in DC, one only sees the raw numbers of NTIA stimulus funds handed out for new broadband.  Human stories, and also descriptions about equal participation among genders (e.g. how many women vs. men use it?), are sorely lacking.  Regulators are disconnected from the local level.

Very strong need to tell stories, actively participate in public comment periods.  (Usually, it's only reps from commercial telcos like Verizon are present at these comment periods.)  Media Access Project, in particular, seek to collect stories from community network operators so they may be represented in DC.

Alison: Another common weakness among community-inspired activists in the inability to acknowledge and tell detailed stories about what did not work.  E.g. what clearly did not lead to increased participation among women?

Evening Keynote Speech

Richard McKinnon from Austin Wireless stresses the importance of expanding into more areas besides wireless internet, e.g. community fiber, community satellite, broadcast radio.

Credit to Matt Rentenen for offering to pass on older equipment. Sascha suggests an email to CWN listserv for those in search of surplus gear li

Wireless Summit @ Vienna: Day 2

posted Aug 13, 2010, 7:55 AM by Ben West   [ updated Aug 14, 2010, 8:46 AM ]

The author is now into his second day at the International Summit for Community Wireless, being held at Tech Gate in Vienna, Austria. This trip was made possible with a generous travel stipend granted to the author by the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative.

Highlighted Talks:

The OLSR-NG Mesh Project - A Status Update & Overview
L. Aaron Kaplan of Funk Feuer
Henning Rogge of FKIE

OLSR, or Optimized Link State Routing, is the algorithm that automagically builds the mesh between WasabiNet antennas.  This presentation explained the background story and how the OLSR-NG project managed to turn OLSR into a highly scalable, very robust mesh routing system which is widely deployed by community wireless networks, industry and academia.

AuthPuppy: a tool to support community models

Geneviève Bastien, of Île sans fil in Montreal,Quebec
Andrews Kofi Nyarkoh, of 1 Village Africa

We developed a new generation of authentication server: AuthPuppy, a modular, configurable, multi-mode authentication server that plays well with third-party applications . By the time of the summit, we hope to have our network at île sans fil in Montreal run on AuthPuppy, with a Wordpress site as captive portals and have some mesh nodes around the network.

We hope that by using AuthPuppy, we can revive our users communities and use the captive portals to encourage discussion and information. And on the technical side, we can stay up to date and adapt to new technologies in the ecosystem.
A Freemium model for sustainable and scalable community networks
Brough Turner, founder of in Boston
Richard MacKinnon, from Austin Wireless in Texas
Nemanja Topovic, from BGWireless in Serbia

Important points:
  • Giving away service (or installing equipment) for free can actually be downside, since users/clients may not have incentive to take you seriously.  This doesn't mean it needs to be a high fee, just non-zero.  Economists describe a 2-side market, where the high-volume service may be given away for free, but with no support offered, while additional, high-value/low-volume services such as directed advertising are offered for a fee.
  • Netblazr plans to grow its network by asking customer to purchase their own nodes, which are expected to sustain 100Mbit, 200Mbit+ in a $100 package within the next few years.  Although the hardware is cheap, letting customers share cost of building out infrastructure helps reduce burden of startup capital required.
    • Startups currently developing 4-radio chipsets (Moores Law says this will soon be 8-radio devices) to watch out for: Qualtenna and Celeno. Their chips may find their way into Ubiquiti access points (for example) within the next
  • Austin Wireless extensively uses social media, in particular by tightly coupling their captive portal with Facebook, and then actively encourages users to post their location on FB, talk about the business they're using.  This helped establish a strong, local advertising channel for Austin Wireless, which it can then resell for revenue.
  • "Founder Fatigue"is becoming common among the community wifi enthusiasts.  It is important to seek sustainable models for deploying your network, and to start that seeking from the first minute.
  • If you have to switch from changing zero $ to charging a small amount, you can only do that once (maybe even twice) in the lifetime of your network, due to psychological eccentricities of how customers perceive pricing.  Indeed, most of your revenue may only come from signing on new customers.
Evening Keynote Talk
Robin Chase, of Meadow Networks and founder of Zipcar, personal blog
Vic Hayes, Senior Research Fellow at the Delft University of Technology, and "Father of Wifi"

Robin's Notable Points:
  • When asking/lobbying/petitioning for gov't fund to build out infrastructure such as a city-wide wireless broadband service, it is essential to demand the gov't use open standard, open source software, and even to the extent feasible, open-source hardware => this is highly conducive to further innovation and entrepreneurship. Silos ultimately stagnate, with no path for future growth.
  • Social Media applications can achieve remarkable results with very minimal start-up costs. Simple example: compare the cost developing and running the portal with the cost of operating the intercontinental hotel network.
  • Since the current fuel tax in the US will be replaced with a usage tax that will be graduated based on congestion (drive private car into crowded area = pay higher tax), a mesh wifi-style network would lend itself readily to letting drivers dynamically retrieve or even update live congestion maps.  This could become a standard feature in all Zipcars, for example.
  • Robin's dream: a collaboratively financed, nation-wide mesh infrastructure.
Vic's Notable Points:
  • Why use wifi?  The global standard was created, which enabled the manufacture to be created at extreme low cost thx to economies of scale.  Also, the industry group Wifi Alliance lent the products credibility.
  • Vic touches on the innovation of spread-spectrum, frequency hopping, and Code-Division Multiple Access (CSM), which were only allowed for civilian use after 1985.
  • Notably ,the original proposal that led to the part 15 rules from the FCC actually called for opening up large sections of the spectrum to frequency hopping / spread spectrum, not just 2.4GHz. During the comment period, many many negative comments were received from the incumbent broadcast industry, which saw that such deregulation would endanger their revenue streams that depended simply on having closed broadcast licenses (called 'warehousing spectrum').  That is, they saw such dereg could engender substantial innovation that would disrupt status quo.
  • The spread spectrum ruling was a present. Otherwise, obtaining spectrum requires long term efforts. Furthermore, spectrum, once obtained, needs to be vigorously defended.
  • Always find a reason that meshes with current political climate, so that your spectrum can continue to exist.
  • Vic's upcoming book: The Innovation Journey of Wifi: The Road Toward Global Success, due out in December 2010.
  • Finally brief mention of pending proposals to extend the current 802.11 standard for Wifi, e.g. 802.11z, 802.11m, 802.11s (dedicated to meshing!), and even White Space.
Evening Excursions

While on the way to a winery (Hueriger in Viennese) in the Spittelau district, we encountered the awesome, Willy Wonka-meets-Steampunk District Heating Plant (Fernwaerme Wien).  This plant was recently remodeled in the style of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who agreed to this unusual venue because of the facility's purpose of useful waste reclamation.  That is, the Fernwarme Wien *** is actually a garbage incineration plant used to generate electricity.

*** Fernwaerme photo credit nacaseven

WasabiNet at Wireless Summit Vienna!

posted Aug 12, 2010, 6:22 AM by Ben West   [ updated Aug 13, 2010, 9:52 AM ]

Ben West, co-founder of the mesh wifi network WasabiNet, will be presenting this weekend at at the International Summit for Community Wireless Networks (IS4CWN) in Vienna, Austria.  Ben will be co-presenting with Josh King from CUWiN in a panel entitled A Recipe for Digital Inclusion.  This trip was made possible with a generous travel stipend granted to the author by the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative.

During the trip across the Atlantic, Amsterdam greeted the author with a neat wind turbine farm just off the coast, just before he met Vic Hayes on the plane to Vienna (sat right next to him!).

As soon as he arrived, the author found it amazing that the 16Mbit cable broadband connection I'm using at my friends apartment is far more responsive than any of the DSL connections he uses in St. Louis, even when accessing the same, US-based sites! (Except when the cable modem heats up and locks up repeatedly.)

Wireless Summit Opening Plenary: Keynote Speakers

Sascha Meinrath, director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative, relates his experience working on community wireless nets, and now work as a tireless advocate in DC for community-owned wireless broadband infrastructure. Stress the problem within the US of so many citizens being unaware their country lags so far behind others in terms of broadband speed and accessible pricing.

Sascha: 80% of all $$$ raised by the Wireless Summit goes into travel support for IS4CWN attendants.

The venue, Tech Gate, is a science park owned by the city of Vienna.  Intended as an incubator for tech startups.

Aaron Kaplan, founder of the long-standing, Viennese community wireless network FunkFeuer.

Jim Baller, founder of the US Broadband Coalition, discussed Broadband in America: Greatness or Mediocrity.  Expressed disappointed with the inadequacy of the federal broadband plan recently released by the FCC, saying that a goal of 4Mbit/s speed broadband service as a minimum for all citizens is painfully slow for country like the US.

Ramon Roca, president of the Foundation: "from community networks to a global, large scale 'user owned and open last mile.'" is a community wireless network located in eastern Spain, which has grown to more than 15,000 nodes by via a a peer to peer agreement that allows anyone to share their existing Net connection, or to get a connection wirelessly.

In addition, Roman stresses the importance of being religiously, politically, and culturally agnostic when expanding your network, since you otherwise end up unnecessarily excluding people.  The peer-to-peer agreement lays out explicitly the terms of, to clear up ambiguities.  This allows to be a true public network as laid out by the Wireless Commons Manifesto.

Key points to creating a community network of the scale of Become Sustainable, Foster Cooperation, Formalize Usage Contracts, and encourage ""gLocalization:" combine extensive local and global interactions.

Also, Roman mentions that security in mesh networks must be treated as an end-to-end solution with SSL, VPNs, etc. Encrypted wireless signals are ridiculously easy to break, so things like WPA or WEP can only promise a false hope of ensuring privacy.

Evening Fun

The evening rounded out with a festive gathering at one of the conference organizer's neat Art Deco-era apartment building in the Viennese diplomatic district.

The author, even with his Victorian Era apartment in St. Louis, was quite jealous, since this place also had a pool (described as 'scheisskalt' by the locals) and a industrious DIY outdoor grill operation constructed from materials liberated from a nearby construction site.

Aurora Borealis, shining down to Dallas!

posted Aug 3, 2010, 10:44 PM by Ben West   [ updated Aug 3, 2010, 10:49 PM ]

"Solar storms could give Americans from Montana to Maine a rare chance to view the Northern Lights tonight and Wednesday night.

The Aurora Borealis, commonly seen over northern Canada and Alaska, could be viewable farther south than usual the next couple of nights, scientists say. That means they might be visible from parts of Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine."

So says Harvard.  This tweet, however, places the aurorae in Kansas!  Keep looking up!

Ben brings the (homemade) Noise to SCOSAG, explains WasabiNet

posted Jul 14, 2010, 2:45 PM by Ben West   [ updated Jul 14, 2010, 2:50 PM ]

"Yesterday technology guru Ben West dropped into SCOSAG with a slew of handmade instruments and sound transformators. Upcycling signage he constructed a tubaesque instrument that amplifies sound waves which he shared with campers. ...

"Ben talked about the transformation from sounds to soundwaves to amplification. A concept that he then applied to his Wasabi Net Project, a St Louis based Internet Mesh that's broadcasting free WiFi to several St Louis neighborhoods using wasabi pea cans as antennas ontop of roofs. With a community focus Wasabi Net's window frequently updates event listings and has a local calender. The project was recently discussed in PC World and Ben will be presenting at a conference in Vienna Austria later this summer."

WasabiNet in the Press 6/18 - 6/25

posted Jun 25, 2010, 12:49 PM by Ben West   [ updated Jun 25, 2010, 2:13 PM ]

WasabiNet has found itself in the press, both local and national, over the past week.  Here is a round-up of all that's been going on!

Why I'd Choose St. Louis for Google's Gigabit Fiber Project (Phil Shapiro article in PC World)

Why St. Louis Works for Google's Gigabit Fiber Project (Network World)

PC World Magazine Puts in a Good Word for St. Louis' Google Fiber Bid (River Front Times)

PCWorld Would Choose St. Louis For Google’s Fiber Project (St. Louis Social Media & Tech Report)

PC World blogger likes St. Louis for Google fiber project (St. Louis Biz Journal)

WasabiNet: The Key to Bringing Google Fiber to STL? (Geek St. Louis)

Tweet from Mayor Francis Slay

WasabiNet founder(s) to Present @ Arch Reactor 6/19

posted Jun 18, 2010, 8:09 PM by Ben West   [ updated Jun 20, 2010, 2:54 PM ]

At least half of WasabiNet founders (Ben West) will be presenting the mesh network at the Arch Reactor Open House Saturday 6/19, which runs 4pm-11pm. More detail below... UPDATE: Proposal attached in PDF below

Arch Reactor Hackerspace invites you to our 2nd open house.... this time in our new and improved location in the Jefferson Underground building!
DATE:  Saturday, June 19th
TIME:  4pm to 11pm
LOCATION:  Jefferson Underground, 2400 S. Jefferson Ave. (enter from parking lot on the North side of the building and follow the signs to the 2nd floor)
Are you a self-described ‘techie’ that is looking for your niche? Arch Reactor, St. Louis’ first Hackerspace is a co-op workshop and club for techies, tinkers and free thinkers. Part arts and technology clubhouse, part training ground for new skills and knowledge, Arch Reactor is a place for residents of St. Louis and surrounding areas to share and receive educational information and training on various topics and skills with access to the tools you otherwise couldn't afford on your own. We offer work space for all kinds of artistic and technological pursuits in a fun and social environment.
Interested in learning more about what we are doing and how you might get involved?  Come visit our new space and talk to the members!  There will be several presentations on different topics by group members and the group will be showcasing several projects and activities, such as a MakerBot, a life-sized version of the game Jenga, a Japanese Arcade Game tournament and other fun interactive exhibits.
This event is free to all. Drinks and refreshments will be provided. Donation are appreciated.
Tell your friends! Tell your neighbors! Tell anyone that's interested in building, learning and above all, DOING!

PC World plugs Mesh Networks, Wireless Conference, and WasabiNet!

posted Jun 18, 2010, 9:15 AM by Ben West   [ updated Jun 18, 2010, 9:41 AM ]

Why I'd Choose St. Louis for Google's Gigabit Fiber Project
by Phil Shapiro

"The economics of mesh networks is fascinating and holds out the promise of bringing basic Internet connectivity to all residents of a neighborhood at a minimal cost – and for some residents, at no cost. When I heard about Google's plans to bring gigabit fiber-optic Internet to a given number of communities in the United States, I started monitoring which communities had existing plans to roll out mesh networks. Such networks are often grassroots projects, organized by tech-savvy community activists. One of the most interesting of these is WasabiNet, organized by some good people in St. Louis. A quick perusal of this project's Website reveals that this project is for real and has been well thought out."

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