Creating a Wi-Fi Communities

Given half a chance, most people want to live in communities and connect with other people. Maybe it is the hunter-gatherer in us looking to partake in this week’s wooly mammoth barbecue.

Whatever it is, Wi-Fi offers you the ability to create communities by extending your network to your neighbors and your neighborhood—creating a real “Communities Network.”

In fact, you can use a “hotspot in a box” solution to create a communities network, but because a neighborhood network doesn’t need to be tracked for usage or billed against there’s no particular benefit to deploying a specific hotspot package. You’ll find that using techniques you already know that you can accomplish setup this system.

A communities network should connect the places that people live, where they work, and places where they congregate. Creating a community-based wireless network makes sense when you give users tools and uses that are different from what they might use their computers for at home.

For example, special content such as you would find in a local portal and the ability to interact with others in new ways are good reasons to consider this kind of network. If you want to see an example of a community-based Web portal, check out DigitalTexas. This site was built by ClearChannel Radio with DynaPortal software.

It’s the local content that makes these sites particularly valuable. Although some people think that Wi-Fi network access should be free and universally available, most people create wireless networks to serve or to establish a community in a contiguous area.

A community could be your immediate neighbors, a condominium complex, your city block, or your entire town. Your purpose in creating a network neighborhood for each of these different sets of users can be entirely different.

Some reasons might be:

  • For your neighbors, you might want to share your Internet connection or provide access to a file share, a networked photographic wide-format printer, or some other resource.
  • For an RV park where vehicles come and go every day.
  • For a city block, you might want to offer network access in an area where your neighbors aren’t served by an ISP or broadband connection.
  • For a condominium where you want to provide share network access to a central broadband connection or T1 line.
  • To an entire town to expedite a whole range of community services.

Gone are the days when people offered network access for things such as BBS or bulletin boards; for most collaborative applications there are Internet tools that serve a similar function and are easier to connect to and less fussy.

You could provide an instant messaging application for community chat sessions, but most people opt to use AOL Instant Messenger (available as a free downloadable application from AOL) or Windows Messenger these days.

Fewer use newsgroups and contribute to blogs. So unless you wish to share some special kind of groupware or collaboration tool such as Lotus Notes, the reason most people give for creating network neighborhoods is the connection itself or access to network resources.

Ask yourself what the impact would be on a community that had an open, widely available wireless network that anyone could access at any time. The universal availability of a community network would enable all sorts of behavior that are hard to accommodate today. For example:

  • You could go to the park on a sunny day with your notebook and get some work done.
  • You could enable computer access to people who live in locations that are inconvenient or expensive to wire up, such as a large, old school building with lots of rooms.
  • You could put up smart information signs that tell commuters about traffic patterns or problems around town, or display information about lost dogs or children, and put those displays even in hard-to-reach locations.
  • You could enable mobile data collection devices for police, postal workers, and others.
  • You could setup webcams to monitor intersections or school grounds.