Broadband Block Party

by Volker Weber

Throughout the world, a new kind of network is gaining ground. It's wireless, fast, and easy to use. If the network grows at its current rate, it may soon become the most widely adopted on the planet.

Most community groups base their networks on the enormously popular 802.11b standard (also known as Wi-Fi). It's cheap, fast, and highly interoperable with hardware from different manufacturers. At last count, the Wireless Communities list at the PersonalTelco Web site showed over 150 projects in scores of cities around the world. But what are those projects doing?

Some are providing free or low-cost wireless hot spots, where network patrons can get online from the comfort of the local park or coffee shop. Others are extending broadband Internet access to regions where DSL and cable don't yet reach. Perhaps most ambitiously, some are building networks that are completely independent of traditional, monopoly-held communication lines, and offering free connections to anyone who cares to participate.

Although the ultimate goals may differ, a common aim among wireless network communities harks back to the early days of PCs: the free and easy exchange of information.

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