So, you want to be a Node?

Personal Telco gets quite a few emails from individuals and businesses who have the same question: "What does it take to 'become a node'? I think I want this, but how do I do it?". This page aims to answer these questions, and hopefully in a helpful, clear, and concise way. This document is part of a Wiki, a web-page that anyone can edit, so if you think you can improve it - please do!

This page can't answer every question. However, there is an accompanying page: PotentialNodeOwnerFaq, which aims to answer all the questions that this page didn't. You might want to look there if you are left with a question.

Have/Get Internet

First things first, Personal Telco does not provide you internet. When you are a node, you are providing internet to others. As such, in order to fulfill this act of generosity, you will need an internet connection to be generous with.


In order to stay out of trouble with obnoxious terms of service, you should not use residential class cable internet service. If you are willing to get a business-class service, and specifically get 'this is for a hotspot' in writing, you should be in the clear. Otherwise, look for local DSL-based ISPs, which generally have much more liberal terms-of-service.


DSL (digital subscriber line) is a technology that uses the old copper wires that have historically provided telephone (voice) service to your house/business. There are a few DSL Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that we can recommend (they have at some point indicated that they are "sharing friendly").

Phone Line

In addition to an ISP, you will need to have a phone line to carry the DSL service. You don't necessarily need landline telephone service, but you need the wires to carry the DSL service to your building. Most likely you already know who your phone company is. CenturyLink (formerly Qwest) and Frontier (formerly Verizon) are the local "consumer" phone companies, and have seperate territories. In any one location, you can get service from one or the other, not both:


In the last few years, another internet service vehicle has appeared in the market, that being WiMax. Clear (and a few others reselling Clear infrastructure) now offers a wireless internet connection at somewhat lower cost. Unless you have a strong signal though, Clear can provide disappointing service. If there are too many subscribers in your area, you might also have problems getting a fast connection. However, we have a number of nodes running off of Clear and they work okay.

Stephouse Networks can also provide fixed-wireless service in some areas. They have been a generous supporter of Personal Telco over the years. They donate the internet connection that serves our Mississippi Avenue network.

3G/4G services *might* be usable, but due to bandwidth caps, this is probably not a viable route for a long-term node.

Wireless Hardware

This used to be more of a problem than it is now. Personal Telco has hardware that we can loan for new Personal Telco nodes. The primary choice is whether you want an outdoor network, or want to start with or stick with an indoor network. We like outdoor networks, and we like to do them as much as possible because it spreads the network farther. However, we are happy to build indoor networks as well. Depending on the expected size of the network, we have a variety of hardware that might be suitable.

Indoor networks

For indoor networks, we can provide one or more of these, on indefinite loan:

If you'd like 802.11n capability, we would recommend a Ubiquiti AirRouter, which is inexpensive (~$39). We would need you to fund these, since we don't have an existing supply of these.

Outdoor networks

For outdoor networks, we have a supply of equipment salvaged from the old MetroFi network, the aborted municipal wireless network that once covered (incompletely) parts of the City. It turns out, the devices seem to work reasonably well, it was just the management of that company which was incompetent. Deployed densely enough, they work fine. However, they are large and heavy, and sometimes difficult (though not impossible) to mount. We have one network so far of a few of these devices near Arbor Lodge Park in North Portland, and another one on the way. We'd love to get them back into service to the public. We might need help with funding the mounting hardware for these.

Four or five years ago, we used to recommend a Soekris-based access-point. However, these cost about $500 per device, complete with radios and antennas. Nowadays, there are better cheaper options. These days, we would recommend a Ubiquiti Bullet M2HP (~$80), which is an 802.11n-capable device that can screw right onto an outdoor antenna. We would need the node host to fund these. However, they work well and are much easier to mount than a MetroFi SkyPilot device (and less apt to pull your chimney down).

We have a limited supply of Alix 2D13 hardware that can be used for indoor "gateway" devices for outdoor networks. With funding, we can buy more (~$115).

Management Software

The Personal Telco Project develops and deploys its own custom firmware for its networks. This software allows us to manage the networks, to keep track of how heavily the networks are being used, and to identify and block "abusers". This is the primary "value-add" that Personal Telco can provide over self-managed networks. In our experience, and open wifi networks become more and more rare, open networks will eventually be abused by one or more users. Typically the abuse will be in the form of bittorrent or similar peer-to-peer software. The "abuser" typically doesn't understand that they are making the network difficult/impossible for others to use. Our capacity to block them provides a feedback mechanism that helps them to understand that their use is harmful to others. We have found that people are usually quite happy to have access to an open wifi network, and that withdrawing that access is a powerful corrective, and that once educated in this way, they can return to productive co-existance with their neighbors.

Our newer firmware deployments also provide IPv6 connectivity, a "splash page", and a "virtual mesh network" of participating Personal Telco nodes. The splash page provides a way of identifying the host of the network, so that users know who to thank!