Personal Telco Monthly Meeting for April 28th 2004

When and Where

Urban Grind Coffee 2214 NE Oregon St. (take 22nd Ave. 2 blocks North of Sandy Blvd.)

Wednesday, April 28th, 6pm-9pm

Agenda

Speakers

ProStructure

Announcing Ewrt: a Linux distribution for the Linksys WRT54G, forked from the Linksys and Sveasoft code bases. The primary focus of Ewrt is to meet the needs of open wireless network operators by providing a captive portal based on NoCatSplash and large-scale management functionality on a stable and low-cost platform.

Company Bio: ProStructure Consulting was founded in 2003 by Brandon Psmythe and Irving Popovetsky following ten years of engineering experience at companies such as Intel, Sprint, UUNet and NetIQ/Webtrends. ProStructure provides high-end network design, information security and DoS defense consulting to advanced IT shops all over the West coast.

Portless Networks is our side project to provide professional wireless deployment services to Enterprise and Commercial real-estate customers. We are also reducing the barrier-to-entry for open wireless network operators with our WRT54G-based platform.

Less Networks

"How Less Networks Helped the Austin Wireless City Project Beat T-Mobile in Six Months"

Less Networks creates free software that allows people to create customer-branded Free WiFi hotspots in their community. They've partnered with the Austin Wireless City Project, Austin's community-based wireless user group, to promote free WiFi in Austin.

Agenda Items

Here's Sam Churchill's Review

Portless Networks, which gave the first of two presentations at the Thursday meeting, is testing a Linksys WRT-54G modification that embeds NoCat inside. The modified Linksys Box, unveiled at last night's PersonalTelco meeting, embeds NoCat captive portal software inside the small, popular 802.11g Linkys box which can be found in office supply stores for around $80. By flashing the on-board memory, coffee shops and other venues can plug the modified Linkys Box directly into a DSL or Cable Modem. It's designed to encourage the proliferation of "free spots" in small businesses.

Currently "free" networks like PersonalTelco, SeattleWireless and others use a computer (either a PC or a Soekris board) running NoCat Auth which provides a splash page and manages the "free" wireless side of a broadband connection. The small, one piece solution promises to make installation of "free spots" much less cumbersome.

While Rob Flickenger’s splash54g and Brian Beattie's BeWitched do much the same thing, developers Irving Popovetsky and Brandon Psmythe of Portless Networks, claim they have improved the reliabily of those earlier efforts.

[NoteBene: Rob's splashwrt54g is a one item hack, it just does nocat and nada else while the Sveasoft firwares, of which ewrt is derived, do tons more stuff, being more a full OS than simply nocat. Its like comparing a spark plug to the whole engine system.

Bewitched is an embeded linux that requires something like a Soekris board and thus is also not an item to compare the ewrt against. -- TomHiggins]

Their software modification requires version 2 (v2) of the Linksys WRT-54G hardware which features a 200mhz MIPS processor, 4mb flash and 16mb of memory. Right now, it's a free effort and still in a testing stage.

[NoteBene: I heard mentioned that the ewrt, as with the sveasoft firmwares, all run on 1.0 and 1.1 hardware. While that hardware has its problems it is still able to run this stuff -- TomHiggins ]

Linksys recently embedded Boingo software into their $200 WRV54G but that device does not use an open source base and cannot use the software developed by Portless Networks directly. Similar one-piece access points are available from Sputnik, Fatport, Pronto and Soekris.

For further information see ProStructure Consulting, Seattlewireless Linksys WRT54G page, The Sveasoft Forums, Jim Buzbee's Batbox wrt54g Linux distribution, Rob Flickenger’s splash54g, Linksys GPL code center, The OpenWRT project, and The Wifi-box project. They like Bob Hestand (503) 704-1247 for hardware distribution.

The second presenter, Jason Levitt of Less Networks, reviewed their community LAN solution. The free community lan software allows people to create customer-branded Free WiFi hotspots. They've partnered with the Austin Wireless City Project, Austin's community-based wireless user group, to promote free WiFi in Austin.

What differentiates their free community lan software? Less Networks has simplifed the installation and uses a centralized server to authenticate. Then it re-directs users to the host's website. The Less Networks software requires you to create a user name and password (although there is no charge). The central server architecture provides centralized management and security funtions. The complications of installing NoCat currently require alpha geek skills. The Less Network's free kickstart software/disk (which just became available last night on SourceForge - somewhere), will enable a "headless" (no keyboard/monitor) and will include the Red Hat distribution and NoCatAuth.

Some PersonalTelco members wanted to know the Less Networks business model; i.e. if it was giving away the software for free, would it sell information about users? Levitt claimed they would not. He said the plan is to (hopefully) make money on premium services. Less Networks primary goal and requirement is free Internet access, he said. Easy installation is the Less Networks key to "beating T-Mobile" [at their own game].

The advantages of using the Less Networks auth server include:

TomHiggins 's Recap

Now that was a pretty amazing meeting. I got to the UG early to rest a bit before the storm but wound up talking or cramming on learning things from 3pm till about 9pm...6 hours of action packed educational filled PTP goodness.

Some Points I picked up during the night

There is tons more but I have just ran out of coffee. Id like to hear other folks impression of the meeting.

Specific to Lessnetworks and some talk that came out of the presentation

Jason's presentation and QandA where amazingly informative and a great thing to see. Lonnie's posts have been great in showing us how Less Networks does up its thing and his experience with it.

Here are some points I jotted down in the old noodle as I read the posts.

<disclaimer>..all of this is my own take on things, there are about three people who can do the "this is the official ptp stance" thing and make it stick, I am none of those people...none of this is defensive or offensive its musings pure and simple. Take it with a grain of salt, or a salt substitute if you have high blood pressure..</disclaimer>

There was talk of, "well why dont we just use what Less has and its all good and it solves for X Y and Z and we can use thier auth servers and.."

All groups have different takes on free wifi and all groups doing this are doing great work at spreading the idea around. The PTP has a different take on things since its inception in 2000 (2001?) and this does not make it worse than or better than any other group such that we need to "watch out for the new leader" or change what we do because there are other methods. Learn form and share with, but not shift to follow the moving target.

think I have made my point.

Now do we have a graphics heavy web page touting all this and requiring membership to use? Well no. If thats something folks want to do I would question if thats effort well spent but have at it if thats your thing.

A few personal twitches to note about Less Networks... pushing iTunes down on folks, something that is boths feeds into the RIAA and feeds from it is nothing I would ever want to see happen on the PTP nodes. Just my personal feelings but Id rather not support that sort of business practices . ...the whole membership thing for access sort of gets in the way of free wifi, maybe I can see it for stuff like SIP services in beta etc etc, but for just getting on the net , nope..

And lastly... everyone at the PTP is a volunteer. No pay, no money, no investment in some stock plan or future pay off other than a city full of free wifi. I think that makes a difference in how you look at things. If we were running this with an eye on paying employees or amazing market share to turn into cashmoney or eventually making any sort of money stream from the use of the net then I think maybe things like Membership, Accounts and playing to a biz model over the grassroots model would make sense. As things stands though the PTP is not, for now its all about just one thing Truly Free Community Wifi all over Portland.. everything else serves that.

The above is NOT a knock on making money, I make it you make it we all make it. My family can not eat philosophy or live in a house made of good intentions. But money changes things, making money from something changes it some more. Good or bad is left up to each person. For myself seeing the PTP as a grassroots non profit thing I do not for money but for the love of it changes how I look at it.

Ok this has gone on for longer than I planned:)- Lets shorten it down then..

What three words best describe your group? I think for the PTP its Community, Education, Networking. Id love to see each group think about what three words best describe their groups.

Anyway thanks to Jason and Lonnie for showing us the Lessnetworks stuff. I look forward to getting the iso and seeing what you got under the hood and how it differs from out PTPNode setups.