I really needed an Internet connection in a hurry Sunday night, I pulled over near the Williamsburg bridge in Manhattan, busted out the laptop, and got a list of about 25 Wifi access points. Just my luck every single AP had some form of security enable. In my extremely non scientific study this situation is more common then it was just 2 years ago.
I tried again later at Puck Fare a favorite bar and found that the open wireless networks I could connect to were restricted using a captive portal that allowed only 24Hour Gym members to access the Internet and in another case guests of the Puck Building across the street. So I should be happy that people are taking Wifi security seriously right?
Yes I am happy that home users and business are no longer leaving themselves wide open. But I am still pissed that there was copious amounts of wireless infrastructure that could have met my needs and that technology to provide it to me in a safe and secure way would cost almost nothing to enable.
The industry has done a lot to improve the quality of over the air data protection with the introduction of WPA and WPA2. And Wifi Protected Setup (WPS) has done wonders for easing the burden on end users to configure it properly. Now that it’s easy to be secure can we now put some focus on making it easy to share? Wi-Fi Alliance are you listening?
As usual Apple gets it. The Apple Airport Extreme among other cool features they have introduced something they call Guest Networking. In essence this allows you to create a 2nd secure or insecure wireless network with limited access to your network but full access to the Internet. So you primary wireless network is locked down and only you have the keys. But guests, neighbors within range, and guys pulled over in their cars desperately needing Internet access can share bit of your Internet connection.
NYCwireless public installation use a system we call SuperNode to manage fully public wireless networks. SuperNode is based on several open source projects and allows network sponsors to control access to the network, track usage, deals with abuse in easily managed. If you want to use this in home or office setup to provide guest access yourself check out our online instructions.
Lots of people will read this and be horrified at the thought of sharing their bandwidth with others. But the reality is you would be shocked at how little of the bandwidth you purchased you are actually using. In short there is plenty to go around. And good guest networking solutions allow you to cap how much of your bandwidth you can share with people like me. (Not sure if the Apple software allows bandwidth cap on guest users).
Truth be told there are still some risks that are not addressed well. The guest networking solutions out there are not perfect and more work needs to be done to prevent abuse of public wireless networks.
I never did find a usable wireless network that night and it’s shame the industry has not done enough to address this need. Is it in their economic interest to do so? Good question, smart companies like Apple seem to have figured out the answer. Linksys, Belkin, Dlink, Netgear and others you have some work to do.