I have to get back to my last blog post about freifunk meshing on Android phones. This is so exciting – it could have such an impact! What I did last night was to walk around in my neighbourhood and make my phone mesh with other people’s freifunk mesh networks. With a better coverage, this would be how I imagine the free wireless LAN in cities – an independent and decentralized network infrastructure that everyone can have access to and that nobody can just switch off.
The core idea of freifunk is meshing: Every device that runs the software becomes part of the infrastructure by forwarding other people’s traffic. So each device makes the network more dense, be it a router, a notebook or – as I realized yesterday – a smartphone. The cool thing about meshing smartphones is that you could potentially be online all the time, as long as your olsrd software is running and there are enough other nodes around you. Not every node needs to have a connection to the internet because the packets are routed via olsr until they reach their destination. Moving nodes (people walking around with their devices) are no problem as the network reconfigures itself permanently to calculate the best routes. I still can’t really believe that this actually works with Android: As soon as my phone detected an olsr.freifunk.net network it started to exchange traffic with it.
The Berlin Senate has been talking about free wireless LAN for at least five years. Nothing has happened. Politicians keep clinging to the idea of a telecommunications company realizing the project: A „free“ (as in free beer) wireless LAN, full of ads, centralized and, thus, under control. They have indeed spoken to the local freifunk community but they do obviously not have the political will to cooperate with a grassroot movement. (For further information, German only, read ULOOP – EU investiert 4.08 Mio EURO in Erforschung Drahtloser Community Netzwerke (freigeist.biz) and Warum Berlin kein öffentliches WLAN bekommt (Zeit online).
freifunk has worked on a decentralized solution for the last ten years. I think there are just three components missing for a free (as in freedom) wireless LAN in the city:
- The first is a better coverage with routers running olsrd. This coverage is hard to achieve: As soon as people have their own encrypted and fast wireless LAN or their expensive and rather slow but always available mobile data connection they probably don’t see the need for setting up another router for the public. If the Berlin Senate wants to help, it could run a campaign for this, give funding for routers and for technical support to set them up.
- Furthermore, the legal practice (not even a law) has successfully spread an atmosphere of fear about secondary liability (so called „Störerhaftung“): Is freifunk legal? What if someone does something illegal via my node? (Last week, there was a nice chaosradio episode on this issue, it’s in German. You can find it here soon: http://chaosradio.ccc.de/.) So, the second component is the abolishment of secondary liability/“Störerhaftung“ in our jurisdiction. By the way, there is a freifunk campaign against secondary liability running right now, the so-called freifunk Freedom Fighter Box (http://blog.freifunk.net/2012/freifunkfreedomfighterbox-gegen-st%C3%B6rerhaftung-und-abmahnwahn).
- The third missing part is the implementation of olsr software in mobile devices: Until now, it is not easily available for smartphones, it requires rooted devices. It is not clear to me, how many devices‘ wireless chips actually support the necessary ad-hoc mode and if they do, this is not necessarily documented. (So I can only encourage you to try it with your device.)
To cut a long story short, we have most of what we need to build a free public wireless LAN ourselves, without the Berlin Senate or anyone deciding if, how or when this is going to happen. A variety of off-the-shelf wireless routers can run the freifunk firmware, they cost between 20 and 40 Euros, they are available second-hand, too. Technical support can be found with the local freifunk community. Spread the word and join the mesh network!