Brooklyn Students Successfully Deploy Open Source Wi-Fi Network

By Karen Veazey September 19, 2013

Every year I attend San Diego Comic Con and every year one of the biggest complaints among attendees is about connectivity. Particularly for those of us writing about the event, sitting in a room full of computer whizzes yet being unable to connect to the Wi-Fi to write an update is mind boggling.

We may be getting some help from an unlikely place, an open source software project and a group of students in Brooklyn who are learning about mesh networking.

Mesh networking is a great answer for any location that can’t take advantage of traditional wired networking. Historic buildings, low-income neighborhoods and temporary facilities all face logistic or cost challenges installing cable so networking over Wi-Fi is a simple answer. But you still need software to connect the system and for some locations even that cost is a show stopper. Now, the Open Technology Institute has announced the release of a new version of free, open course wireless networking software called Commotion.

Commotion is still in beta, but has already been successfully set up by students of the OTI’s Digital Stewards training program in Brooklyn. The team practiced by partnering with students in the Detroit Steward Program to install a mesh network for users attending the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. The New York students then planned and implemented a network in the tough, low income neighborhood of Red Hook, where computers are scarce.

With the goal of helping residents take advantage of the opportunities available through the Internet, students installed an Internet router on a roof networked to 20 computers at the local New York Housing Authority Recreation Center and a local church. Any devices enabled with Wi-Fi in the coverage area can be added to the mesh network using Commotions free software.

The benefit of mesh networking lies in its strength and flexibility. Because end users are connected to one another and/or various Internet connection points, resources are shared and passed along. If a user drops out there is no break in the chain as all other users are multi-connected themselves. Because many users can access the system, any connectivity fees for Internet use can be shared among a group. Mesh networking actually don’t even require an Internet connection so Commotion could also be used to set up a private Intranet.

The idea has plenty of applications including emergency response, low income or developing nation access, and, less critically, the aforementioned Wi-Fi overload that is so common at conventions. For some of us it would be a nice convenience to have redundant connections helping us reach the access point but for a community like Red Hook it could literally open up important roads to a better life.

Commotion is looking for testers and development input, particularly in the security realm. To find out more, visit

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

TechZone360 Contributing Writer

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