Linux Makes Wi-Fi Happen in New York City
I met with Terry Schmidt at Emenity's offices near Wall Street, where he briefed me on the challenges of deploying public Wi-Fi in New York's peculiar urban settings. The first big project for both NYCwireless and Emenity was Bryant Park, which shares a midtown block with the New York's Public Library. Terry explains:
We overbuilt that one with two omni antennas, one sector antenna and two point-to-point links within the park itself. But it was a big success, so it became clear that there was a need for free wireless networks. A volunteer organization like NYCwireless can't easily do service level agreements and stuff like that, so that's what we provide with Emenity.
Terry sees Emenity as a midway organization between the purely voluntary and the purely self-reliant. Bryant Park, for example, originally was built by NYCwireless, then maintained by Emenity and now is run entirely in-house by the park itself.
Emenity's biggest customer is the Downtown Alliance, a business improvement district (BID) organized to “create and promote a safe, clean, live-work, totally wired community”. BIDs throughout the city are supported by a small additional local sales tax. Improvements to Bryant Park—which are nothing less than spectacular, considering the no-mans-land it used to be—are examples of a BID at work. Because the alliance serves landowners, it also can approach them with requests to use their roofs or windows for wireless antennas aimed down at public spaces.
At City Hall Park, the rooftop across the street at J&R Music and Computer World proved to be the ideal access point location. A square white sector antenna with a beam width of about 40°, angles down at the park and provides a signal footprint that serves the park itself and little else. At the far edge of the park by City Hall it fades away. A fairly precise footprint also graciously yields to other access points at the local Starbucks, City Hall, the Woolworth Building and elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Terry Schmidt says NYCwireless encourages local citizens operating free access points to label them “NYCwireless” and register with NYCwireless so they appear on the organization's node list. End user licensing runs the gamut from locked-down to free. Time-Warner, for example, aggressively denies users the right to share bandwidth. At the other extreme, Verizon sells Wi-Fi access points to its DSL customers.
Verizon, which has thousands of phone booths on the streets of New York, has seen the same writing on the own wall, and come up with a brilliant plan: turn phone booths into access points. The first 150 were fired up on May 13, and the company has plans to add the service to 500 or more throughout the city and beyond.
At the time of this writing, the service is available and free, to Verizon business and residential DSL customers only. But there's nothing in the deployment that prevents the company from opening up to other customers or from opening up completely—it was designed that way. In fact, it was designed to be as easily deployable and modifiable as possible, which is why the company made use of Linux and open-source tools. Sean Byrnes, an architect with Verizon, explained it this way:
What Linux let us do was deploy extremely quickly. So, rather than setting up large servers in one of our data centers, we were able to create Linux clusters and build initial versions that supported the hot spot service extremely quickly, using a wide variety of open-source software—much more quickly than if we had been waiting for licenses, etc. We couldn't have moved it into the data center if Linux didn't allow us to develop with platform independence and with open-source technologies that are implemented across multiple operating systems. We're working to have Linux qualified for the data centers, but it isn't there yet.
When I said it sounded to me like Verizon was an example of a company that found it easier to roll their own solutions than depend on vendors for help, Sean Byrnes replied, “That would be an understatement, actually.” He explained:
If you think of very large companies, more often than not, when you're rolling out a new service or application, the argument can be made that the majority of it is glue. Because you already have so many systems and applications out there you have to glue them together somehow, so you're forced to be agile. It's never a question of being able to buy a package from a vendor and use it on day one.
With that many managed access points on the street, the Verizon people have been gaining some valuable experience with Wi-Fi in the real world. Terry Schmidt isn't optimistic about nonfree business models for Wi-Fi. He says, “We don't think that a lot of the for-pay wireless stuff has a sustainable business model. Companies like T-Mobile, with all those Starbucks locations, are hemorraging money, and almost nobody's using them.”
Meanwhile, plenty of people are taking advantage of free Wi-Fi in places like Bryant Park and Alt.Coffee. “Free wireless is good for business”, Terry says.
That's the model. Local business owner says, “I'm going to make my business and my surrounding market more valuable by providing free wireless. It's an attractive thing to do. It enhances the environment and attracts customers.”
Does Verizon's service, free for existing customers, serve as a conditional flower box? I believe so. Verizon is the incumbent local phone company in New York. It has a lot of home and business DSL customers. Flower boxes that appear magically for those customers are a nice bonus to existing service. It's a way for Verizon to say “Take that laptop out of here. Go sit in a cafe somewhere”.
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal
|Designing Electronics with Linux||May 22, 2013|
|Dynamic DNS—an Object Lesson in Problem Solving||May 21, 2013|
|Using Salt Stack and Vagrant for Drupal Development||May 20, 2013|
|Making Linux and Android Get Along (It's Not as Hard as It Sounds)||May 16, 2013|
|Drupal Is a Framework: Why Everyone Needs to Understand This||May 15, 2013|
|Home, My Backup Data Center||May 13, 2013|
- Designing Electronics with Linux
- New Products
- Making Linux and Android Get Along (It's Not as Hard as It Sounds)
- Dynamic DNS—an Object Lesson in Problem Solving
- Using Salt Stack and Vagrant for Drupal Development
- Validate an E-Mail Address with PHP, the Right Way
- Tech Tip: Really Simple HTTP Server with Python
- Build a Skype Server for Your Home Phone System
- Why Python?
- Drupal Is a Framework: Why Everyone Needs to Understand This
- Reply to comment | Linux Journal
23 min 59 sec ago
- Reply to comment | Linux Journal
1 hour 14 min ago
- Not free anymore
5 hours 16 min ago
9 hours 3 min ago
- Reply to comment | Linux Journal
9 hours 11 min ago
- Understanding the Linux Kernel
11 hours 25 min ago
13 hours 55 min ago
- Kernel Problem
23 hours 58 min ago
- BASH script to log IPs on public web server
1 day 4 hours ago
1 day 8 hours ago
Enter to Win an Adafruit Pi Cobbler Breakout Kit for Raspberry Pi
It's Raspberry Pi month at Linux Journal. Each week in May, Adafruit will be giving away a Pi-related prize to a lucky, randomly drawn LJ reader. Winners will be announced weekly.
Fill out the fields below to enter to win this week's prize-- a Pi Cobbler Breakout Kit for Raspberry Pi.
Congratulations to our winners so far:
- 5-8-13, Pi Starter Pack: Jack Davis
- 5-15-13, Pi Model B 512MB RAM: Patrick Dunn
- 5-21-13, Prototyping Pi Plate Kit: Philip Kirby
- Next winner announced on 5-27-13!
Free Webinar: Hadoop
How to Build an Optimal Hadoop Cluster to Store and Maintain Unlimited Amounts of Data Using Microservers
Realizing the promise of Apache® Hadoop® requires the effective deployment of compute, memory, storage and networking to achieve optimal results. With its flexibility and multitude of options, it is easy to over or under provision the server infrastructure, resulting in poor performance and high TCO. Join us for an in depth, technical discussion with industry experts from leading Hadoop and server companies who will provide insights into the key considerations for designing and deploying an optimal Hadoop cluster.
Some of key questions to be discussed are:
- What is the “typical” Hadoop cluster and what should be installed on the different machine types?
- Why should you consider the typical workload patterns when making your hardware decisions?
- Are all microservers created equal for Hadoop deployments?
- How do I plan for expansion if I require more compute, memory, storage or networking?