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Stop the Presses: Linuxcare Founders Launch Sputnik Wireless Network

While Boingo (the new national wireless internet system headed by EarthLink founder Sky Dayton) has been getting a lot of attention, the three Linuxcare founders—Dave Sifry, Dave LaDuke and Art Tyde—have been quietly building a system of their own—one based on the sharing model pioneered by the Free Software, Open Source and Linux movements. The company is Sputnik, and after a cautious beginning, the service has finally been launched.

To put Sputnik in context, it helps to see a wireless network (802.11b, or WiFi) as one of three things: 1) a closed wireless Ethernet LAN, 2) a wireless way to get on the Net for a fee or 3) a wireless way to get on the Net for free. Any one of the three might show up in your wireless client software when your laptop is within range of a “hot spot”. But only the last two offer ways to get on the Net. The main difference between Boingo and Sputnik is that Boingo aggregates businesses offering number two, while Sputnik extends both numbers two and three—especially three. Think of it as a fee-for-use value add-on to all the participating hot spots in the world.

Here's the difference in frame of reference: Boingo comes from the PC world, and Sputnik comes from the Linux/UNIX world. Boingo offers users client software and service for a fee, while it offers service providers a uniform way to interact with those users, along with a straightforward revenue stream. Sputnik offers users a way not only to take advantage of WiFi bandwidth, but to serve it up as well. As with Linux, your laptop is both a client and sever. You become a fully empowered part of the system.

With Sputnik Gateway Software, you distribute bandwidth while you use it. Your laptop becomes an access point—a hot spot. But instead of performing as an indiscriminate hub, Sputnik's gateway acts as an intelligent router, sending traffic by priority to other Sputnik members. The system expands with each new member. Dave Sifry says, “The gateway is a smart edge device, there is no need to run a special client in order to use it. No software to download onto your box! Totally standards-driven!”

Here's how Glenn Fleishmann of 802.11b Networking News puts it:

This is totally amazing.

The Sputnik folks have solved all the problems Boingo didn't while offering an interesting, viral alternative. They solve the firewall issue (local networks are protected while the AP is open), authentication issue (captive portal without any work) and priority issue (local users and Sputnik affiliates have QoS above random folk).

Because being a member opens the rest of the network to you for free, it plays on both aspects of the Internet in general and wireless community networks in particular: enlightened self-interest, as your adoption increases the size of the network and the likelihood of others to join; and generous selflessness, as you have nothing in particular to gain by allowing others to use your access point and network. Only in combination do these two virtues turn into a viral message.

Of course, some may cavil at this: it co-opts community networks by offering a prefab, PC-based package that looks like a closed box. Money is only taken from outsiders, those not generous or sophisticated enough to become affiliates.

I'm curious if this will provoke a firestorm of criticism.

The gateway comes with a firewall. It also serves as an application platform, does caching, tracks usage, handles authentication, remote management and other things. Its core technologies are also open source and available under the GPL.

Subscribers pay a monthly fee, but for a limited time (as we go to press), subscribers can roam for free. Sputnik is at www.sputnik.com.

—Doc Searls

They Said It

SETI is a science, not a screensaver!

—SETI Institute (www.seti.org)

The present invention relates to the creation and use of synthetic forms of existence, or androids, and more specifically relates to the development of a universal epistemological machine in which any forms of the universe, conventional technologies included, are represented, embodied and realized as eternal moments of an infinitely expanding continuum of enabled existential forms, as an alternative approach to resolving the problems of the human condition.

—Patent No. 6,341,372: “Universal machine translator of arbitrary languages”, January 22, 2002

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