Surfers and gamers create nationwide Wi-Fi network

11 Aug 2003

A group of Irish intenet users and gamers are in the process of establishing a community-run network of wireless networks all over the country which they plan to link together into one massive wide area network (WAN) over which they can share broadband connectivity.

So far some 70 Wi-Fi nodes have been established by members of the Irish WAN, some of which are connected by radio antennas that allow Wi-Fi hotspots to connect and share broadband over distances of 10-15 kilometers apart.

Boasting a membership of up to 750 registered users, the Irish WAN grew out of a discussion board on community website two years ago, with the aim of finding a better way for people to share broadband amidst a broadband drought.

Already there are active networks in Antrim, Wexford, Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Wicklow, Galway, the mid west and Cork with several sharing broadband between Wi-Fi nodes connected to ADSL at speeds of up to 11Mb/s.

The largest of the user groups is the Dublin WAN organisation, where members co-ordinate up to 30 Wi-Fi nodes across the city on a voluntary basis.

According to Robert Fitzsimons, chairman and treasurer of the Dublin WAN organisation, the plan is to attach external antennas to commodity Wi-Fi equipment in move that increase the range of the wi-fi node to form links up to an average distance of 10 km. “The frequency license is currently exempt under ComReg rules, the only difficulty is the large amount of electrical power needed to keep the links live,” he said. The networks communicate via a radio link under the ISM (industrial, scientific and medical) band which has a maximum power output under ComReg rules of 100MW.

Fitzsimons added that while the present networks are based on the 802.11b wireless local area networking standard, the community members are evaluating moving to 802.11a or 802.11g standards that would give broadband speeds of up to 56Mb/s speed within the node and 11Mb/s in communicating between the wireless nodes using the external antennae.

In terms of turning the national network into a business, Fitzsimons said that it was still early days for Irish WAN and that it has yet to establish itself as a legal entity. “Some members like the idea of commercialising the networks but at the moment we are happy to keep it community-based. It would require considerable co-ordination in the future to turn it into a business.

“We are looking at establishing ourselves as a legal entity or limited business in order to interact with businesses, community groups, local and national governments to share the advantages we have achieved, but that will be down the road. It is a matter of first of all establishing the technology and the co-operation between the various community groups before we take on any ambitious projects.”

Because the networks have developed on a co-operative and ad-hoc basis, each has different layers of security, which Fitzsimons said would need to be standardised before a serious business-case could be made for the networks. “For us right now it is about seeing the technology work and getting the best out of wireless broadband,” he concluded.

By John Kennedy