Heat map

Here are some rough notes and ideas on how to start a community network. I will gradually expand on this over the year.


Research

It is important to do some research first. There are a few really big community networks (mostly non-English speaking). The biggest is Guifi in Spain. Others include Freifunk in Germany, and Wlan Slovenija. Follow those links and see what they are doing.

Guifi began on farms and gradually expanded across the country. They use hundreds of kilometers of fiber, and wireless in all modes- point-to-point (P2P), point-to-multipoint (P2MP) and mesh (MP2MP). Here is a good long interview with Ramon Roca, who started Guifi.

NYC Mesh has done many presentations that explain what we are doing. You can watch videos and see the slides here.

Essential Reading

Wireless Networking in the Developing World (WNDW) is a great free book about designing, implementing, and maintaining low-cost wireless networks. http://wndw.net/book.html.

You need to know the basics of wifi and networking. The OSI layers, IPv4, IPv6, 2.4GHz vs 5GHz wifi, wifi modes- infrastructure vs. ad-hoc (which is used by mesh routers) etc. This book covers all of that.

Community organizations with shared resources often fail. This is called the tragedy of the commons. Others succeed and have been successful for centuries. Governing the Commons, Ostrum lists the principles that the successful collectives share. Design principles illustrated by long-enduring “common pool resources” (CPR) institutions-

Choose a firmware package

For mesh protocols use a BATMAN protocol such as bmx6, bmx7 or batman-adv. There are prebuilt packages- Libremesh, qMp and Gluon. We use qMp. Don’t try creating your own, just modify an existing package to your configuration.

Install your first node

Some groups never get around to installing anything. Just go and install your first node to prove you can. Set up a public access point in a cafe or other meeting place. With each successful install you get experience, publicity and more members joining.

Online collaboration

Meetup spaces

Get a regular space for meetups. There are offices that will donate their space for free after work hours. These are good for general meetups. You should also have technical meetups in makerspaces where you can configure routers and practice crimping ethernet cable etc.

Install team

Get a team of people together to do installs. These installs will mostly be weekends as that is when people are free during the day. The team has to know how to crimp and run cable, configure and align antennas and occasionally drill.

Roof installs can often be done using abandoned TV antenna masts. Otherwise you will need to install your own mast or bracket using a drill, or use a non-penetrating mast

Whole buildings

Try to get whole buildings to install a rooftop antenna and then run ethernet to the apartments. You want long term installs! Don’t connect rooftops unless a) multiple tenants OR b) person owns apartment OR c) person intends to stay very long time i.e. avoid students etc. who will move out!

Gateways

Plan your internet gateways. Initially you will probably use your home ISP connection (totally legal in this country). Eventually you may want a “supernode” with bigger bandwidth. An IXP or ISP may donate a connection, as DE-CIX and Packet.net did for us.

Another kind of gateway is a public wifi access point. By using directional routers you can extend the range of public access points very easily. Here are some instructions- how to connect to a kiosk.. This uses a NanoStation.

Tall structures

Tall structures are the fastest way to expand the wireless mesh. There are a few different types in a city and you need to try them all- housing association buildings, skyscrapers, churches, schools, libraries, existing antenna masts and building coops. Make specific presentations and handouts for different types of structures.

Supernodes

Plan your first major gigabit install at an IXP or tower. This will have sector antennas (P2MP) and point to point. You may need a network engineer to help in their spare time. An IXP connection requires a network engineer familiar with BGP.

A sector antenna is basically a Wireless ISP (WISP) tower so WISP expertise is needed. The best online forum is the Ubiquiti community, and the best organization in America is WISPA. The sector antennas can be a gateway and also bridge your mesh network and reduce the amount of hops. Try to not to be more than three hops from a gateway. Every hop halves the bandwidth and adds ~15ms of latency.

To get a long distance from a gateway use P2P setups- either cheap: 150Mbps such as a pair of LiteBeams, or expensive: gigabit such as a pair of AirFiber.

The most popular cheap outdoor routers are Ubiquiti. Other good companies are LigoWave, Microtik.

Local mesh networks

Besides connecting to a major tower like a supernode, you can build up a neighborhood network. This is usually based around a person who has strong connections to that area, and can be as simple as sharing your connection within a building using ethernet and mesh routers. Also putting a mesh router in your window to give access to a cafe or park across the street or a neighboring building.

Computer networking groups

Go to local NANOG and other computer networking groups

Talk to local WISPs and alternate ISPs. WISPs have all the skills needed to make a fast wifi network.

Fiscal sponsor

Get a non-profit to be your fiscal sponsor (ISOC in your state etc.). This will make it easier to accept donations and get grants.

Grants

Apply for grants!

Collaborations

Look for potential collaborations