Seems like the wireless meetup tonight went really well.
We had a good selection of folks come out, and I know I learned a lot. Joe Bowser is software and hardware hacker extraordinaire and taught us a bunch, while Mike West has already imported a stack of Meraki units so we can get started experimenting with mesh right away.
We talked a lot about some of the other solutions out there, from hacking Netgear units to MIT Roofnet. At the end of the day, the Meraki units "just work", and we are at this point more interested in experimenting with good mesh coverage than diving into more hardware or software hacking. While Meraki isn't fully open source, the firmware is open, and we're confident that the Meraki software could be replaced in the future if necessary.
Mike shared with us his experiences in getting larger numbers of Meraki units into Canada, especially modified outdoor units from NetEquality. NetEquality is another organization out of Portland (the original FreeGeek started in Portland, too) that is a non-profit which "provide[s] planning, deployment resources and internet mesh products worldwide and install[s] free network hardware in qualified communities in the Pacific Northwest".
We spent some time talking about working with other local groups: BCWireless.net, Vancouver Community Network, Free Geek Vancouver, and Mobile Muse.
Graham from Tooth and Dagger proved perfect in asking lots of great questions. We settled on trying to answer the question, "What would it take to cover Water Street to Waterfront Station with mesh wireless?" The estimate is that we could need as little as 15 units, and there are a good handful of local Gastown businesses who are already interested. Basically, we'll consider this a "Phase 0" of experimentation where we test getting a mesh up and running, monitor bandwidth usage, and so on. Much longer term, wouldn't it be interesting if some of the many large towers from Yaletown to the West End could be educated in running a mesh node, rather than the 100s of overlapping wifi routers in place today.
Mike has left this pile of Meraki units at the Bryght offices -- I'll confirm the pricing tomorrow, but around $75 for the indoor unit and $125 for the outdoor one. If you want one for personal use, for your business, for anything, you can come buy one (or several!). More details on this in the next couple of days.
Bryght is going to put an outdoor unit on the roof, Raincity Studios is moving in and will probably stick a unit in the front window. Joe works at Nitobi and already has a unit on the roof. If we can start by covering the first block from Alexander to Abbott, that will be an excellent start: then we can start talking to the Gastown Business Improvement Association and the other local businesses.
Lastly, in scheming over beer later, Mike shared that he has the domain FreeTheNet.ca. For now, we'll go under the working assumption that we'll use Vancouver.FreeTheNet.ca as the working name for the group, and start building out things like a list of locations of nodes, as well as a write up how people in other cities can get started as well.
Want to continue the discussion? Join the FreeTheNet.ca Google Group. Tentatively, we planned for another meet up on October 11th.