What is NYCwireless?
We are volunteer group constructing a community owned network of computers that share internet access over radio connections. Each access point is run independently by volunteers with their own equipment. Wireless ethernet provides internet access to mobile computers, PDAs and desktops without connection cables. Instead, it uses radio communication between the computer and access points. There are several versions of wireless ethernet in use today. NYCwireless ethernet is based on the IEEE 802.11b “high rate” standard, therefore only devices that use this protocol (such as Lucent’s Wavelan PC cards and Apple’s Airport, and many other devices which work on Microsoft Windows, Mac, Linux, and FreeBSD platforms) will work on the NYCwireless network. In the future as new wireless standards develop we will evaluate them for use in the NYCwireless network.
Why are we doing this?
The key advantage of wireless Ethernet is flexibility. Your PC does not have to be chained to a network jack. Network access can be found in places previously not available (in a coffee shop, or a park for example). Wireless networks can generally be built for less cost than wired networks. Wireless ethernet also provides internet access coverage to areas that might not be able to receive wired internet access.
What is the range?
Range varies depending on many things. For a typical laptop on a street corner with an access point without an external antenna placed in a good location, the range is usually 1/2 block in each direction. Manufacturers usually state 100 to 300 feet range depending upon the environment. By adding higher gain external antennas and or amplifiers the range can be greatly extended. When doing long distance point to point links with LOS (Line of Sight), the range is measured in miles. The limitations are the antennas, LOS, and the curvature of the earth.
How fast is it?
The IEEE 802.11b standard has a nominal speed of 11 megabits per second (Mbps). However, depending on signal quality and how many other people are using the wireless ethernet through a particular Access Point, usable speed will be much less (on the order of 4 or 5 Mbps, which is still substantially faster than most dialup connections, and faster than most DSL and cable modem connections). To put that into perspective, wired 10BaseT ethernet is a full 10 Mbps, and a 56K modem connection is .056 Mbps. The basic speed limitation though is the wired connection (DSL, cable modem, etc.) back to the internet which may vary between each access point.
Is it secure?
No! Wireless Ethernet is insecure by default. Any user on the Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) can spy on unencrypted traffic from other wireless users. Wired connections are generally more secure when communicating with other servers. Users are advised to use SSL to connect to web pages and mail hosts, SSH instead of telnet whenever possible, and VPNs (virtual private networks) for all other data to ensure privacy and security. You may see literature saying that the 802.11b standard includes provisions for optional 40- or 128-bit link-level encryption over the air, however, current implementations require the encryption key to be shared by all users of the wireless LAN, effectively eliminating the usefulness of this security feature in an open network environment.
Won’t a public network be abused by spammers and drug dealers? Shouldn’t access be restricted?
This question was best answered by a post from Thalia on Slashdot:
“I am tired of the usual diatribe from security people that bandwidth is this great outlet for danger. Any system could be used for DOS, DDOS, Spam, spoofing, hacking onto other machines in the park, secret Chinese spy deals, and more. Get over it.
Some would liken IP connectivity to a printing press, and argue the company providing the press must watch each item printed against copyrighted, subversive, or pornographic works. Others would argue it is like electricity, a utility that is provided fairly cheaply after the initial wiring is installed, and need not be charged for at all for small amounts. The few who see it as a wilderness, full of abuse and crime and desparados checking for weakness tend to sell computer security services.”
Is it safe?
Because WaveLAN operates at .25 watts in a bursty mode (cellular phones go up to 3 watts and microwave ovens leak more than that), a user is probably in more danger talking on the car phone or cooking dinner than they are using wireless ethernet.
All devices on the market are approved by the FCC, which has a good public document on RF Safety.
What OS do you recommend?
Since this is a group of independent volunteers, compatibility may vary between access points. In general NYCwireless recommends the following operating systems: Windows 2000, Windows 98, Mac OS 9.1 or OS X, Linux, and FreeBSD. It is possible to use other operating systems on NYCwireless.
What wireless ethernet card do you recommend?
NYCwireless has had success using ORiNOCO (now Proxim) 802.11b cards, and the Apple Airport cards. Any 802.11b compliant card should work. People have also had success in using Prism based cards. There are many rebranded cards that are based on the Prism chipset. Key attributes to look for are a card that is fully 802.11b compliant, and Wi-Fi certified.
How much will this cost me for equipment?
A one-time equipment cost to buy your wireless ethernet card is necessary. Wireless ethernet cards are generally between $50-$100. NYCwireless is a free service and there is no cost to access it.
What are the settings to use NYCwireless?
Since each access point is run by independent volunteers with their own equipment, settings may vary from node to node. It is best to refer to the specific web page of that node by looking at the maps and nodes page. The default settings are an ESSID/Network name “www.nycwireless.net”, and to use DHCP to obtain an IP address.
I have Linux, will it work?
Linux drivers exist for the Lucent WaveLAN cards, and many other wireless network cards, and Linux test computers were used to connect to NYCwireless.