/. The Island of the Wireless Guerrillas

Jeffrey Kay jeff@k2.com
Thu, 14 Mar 2002 08:59:50 -0500

History repeats itself.  The inspiration for Ethernet - CSMA/CD networking - originated in
Hawaii with the ALOHAnet, a wireless network that was connected to the ARPAnet in the
early 70s.  ALOHAnet implemented CSMA/CD -- carrier sense, multiple access, collision
detect -- to deal with the problems of radios transmitting packets at the same time.  Bob
Metcalfe based his Ph.D. work on improving ALOHAnet, which led him to develop Ethernet [1,
excerpted below].  Norm Abramson was the engineering professor at the University of Hawaii
that developed that network [2, excerpted below].

As the article says below, it sounds vaguely familiar because it was done in Hawaii once
before. [references follow sig block]

-- jeffrey kay
weblog  <www.k2.com>
"first get your facts, then you can distort them at your leisure" -- mark twain
"golf is an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle" -- sports
"if A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y plus Z. X is work. Y is play.
Z is keep your mouth shut." -- albert einstein

[1] from http://www.ibiblio.org/pioneers/metcalfe.html

Rejection and Hawaiian Inspiration

Metcalfe was excited about the ARAPNET and made it the topic of his doctoral dissertation.
He was shocked when Harvard flunked him. His dissertation was "not theoretical enough."
Metcalfe was angry. "They let me go into this thing and they gunned me. I'm even willing
to stipulate that it wasn't very good. But I'd still justify my anger at those bastards
for letting me fail. Had they been doing better jobs as professors, they would never have
allowed that to happen. But I hated Harvard and Harvard hated me. It was a class thing
from the start." (Englebart in Kirsner)

Metcalfe had already accepted a job a Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). He was
told to come take his job anyway and finish his doctoral work later. His inspiration for a
new dissertation came when he read a paper about the ALOHA network, or Alohanet at the
university of Hawaii. The Alohanet used radio waves instead of telephone wire to transmit
data. The main problem with using radio waves as a medium was that if two packets were
sent out at the same time on the same broadcast channel they would interfere with each
other and effectively cut off the transmission.

The Alohanet designers implemented a method called random access. Computers were allowed
to transmit whenever they had data to send. They then waited to receive confirmation from
the destination computer that the packets arrived. If packets collided and no confirmation
was received, the sending computer would wait for a random (but very short) period of time
and retransmit.

Metcalfe saw several problems in the design. He reworked the design and made it the topic
of his new dissertation. His key improvement was to vary the random interval for
re-transmission based on traffic load. If their was a lot of data traffic, the computer
would wait longer periods before re-transmitting. This would greatly improve efficiency by
limiting the number of repeat collisions. Metcalfe's new dissertation was accepted and he
finally got his Ph.D.

[2] from http://www.pbs.org/opb/nerds2.0.1/networking_nerds/tcpip.html

Surfing the Net

Norm Abramson, a professor of engineering at Stanford, had a personal interest in Hawaii.
It was surfing. He was an avid surfer and after a visit to Hawaii in 1970, he inquired at
the University of Hawaii if they were interested in hiring a professor of engineering.
Within a year he was working at the University and surfing on the beaches in Hawaii.

Abramson immediately started working on a radio-based data communications system to
connect the Hawaiian islands together, and he got Larry Roberts to fund the project.
Abramson's team of engineers and graduate students eventually built the first wireless
packet-switched network, and in true Hawaiian style, they named it ALOHAnet.

Abramson then managed to get a Terminal IMP from Larry Roberts in early 1971 and connected
the ALOHAnet to the ARPAnet on the mainland. It was the first time another big network was
connected to the ARPAnet.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: fork-admin@xent.com [mailto:fork-admin@xent.com]On Behalf Of
> Eugene Leitl
> Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2002 8:37 AM
> To: consume-thenet@lists.consume.net
> Cc: transhumantech@yahoogroups.com; forkit!
> Subject: /. The Island of the Wireless Guerrillas
> http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/print/0,1643,38492,00.html
> The Island of the Wireless Guerrillas
> By: Erick Schonfeld
> Issue: April 2002
> Print Article | Email This Article
> Hawaii has given us many great things. Surfing. The ukulele. Don Ho. But
> of all of Hawaii's bounty, perhaps no gift is more wonderful than the one
> it is giving now: A group of dedicated tech junkies that's creating our
> wireless broadband future.
> As he drives his white pickup truck through the craggy lava fields of the
> Big Island of Hawaii, Bill Wiecking casts his eyes across a terrain of
> otherworldly beauty. Rising in the distance is a volcanic fog created by
> streams of lava seeping into the sea. Most people can only fantasize about
> living on an island of such natural splendor; Wiecking thinks he can
> improve upon the surroundings. He's a lifelong technology junkie with a
> peculiar but abiding love of antennas, an excellent example of which is
> the plastic pole sticking 8 feet straight up out of the back of his truck.
> These lava fields are, he says, "a proving ground."
> What he's trying to prove is that wireless broadband Internet access can
> work, and work affordably, even in a place like this. Across most of
> Hawaii, DSLs and cable modems are rumors, leaving dial-up Web access -- to
> Wiecking, suffocatingly limited -- as the only alternative. Yet here among
> the volcanoes, Wiecking is firing off e-mails and pulling in National
> Public Radio over the Net at lightning speed on the laptop in his truck.
> His mind, Ph.D.-trained in physiology, seems to need a constant flow of
> information the way a fish's gills need a constant flow of water. "This is
> the only way I can stay sane," Wiecking says. His info fixes are made
> possible by a do-it-yourself wireless network he has pieced together to
> cover more than 300 square miles of the Big Island.
> It's a decidedly homegrown affair. The pole jutting from the bed of
> Wiecking's pickup grabs wireless Internet signals beamed from the dozen
> base stations he has set up across the island. The base stations are
> wherever he can put them: on the roof of his house, at the homes of
> friends, at schools, even on top of a roving psychedelic bus. Wiecking's
> technological secret is a wireless standard called 802.11b, more
> felicitously known as Wi-Fi (for "wireless fidelity"). Conventional 802.11
> networks have a range of no more than 300 feet, but by using a hodgepodge
> of cheap amplifiers, antennas, and other gear, Wiecking has been able to
> stoke up the range of some of his base stations to more than 26 miles. Now
> people all over the island are tapping into Wiecking's wireless links,
> surfing the Web at speeds as much as 100 times greater than standard
> modems permit. High school teachers use the network to leapfrog a plodding
> state effort to wire schools. Wildlife regulators use it to track
> poachers. And it's all free. Wiecking has built his network through a
> coalition of educators, researchers, and nonprofit organizations; with the
> right equipment and passwords, anyone who wants to tap in can do so, at no
> charge.
> If a lot of this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. We've been hearing
> about our wonderful broadband future for so long, it's startling to see it
> actually beginning to take shape. And it's not just here in Hawaii: A
> quietly growing legion of wireless guerrillas is using 802.11 -- and
> components ranging from Pringles cans to wire-wrapped plastic tubing -- to
> set up wireless networks in at least 40 U.S. cities, from Seattle to New
> York to Austin, and many more cities overseas. The dream is to create
> enough overlapping networks so that wherever you go, you can open a laptop
> equipped with an 802.11 antenna and hook into high-speed Web access. Some
> Wi-Fi missionaries are techno utopians who share their high-speed Internet
> access for free. Others are entrepreneurs setting up for-pay networks in
> cafes, hotel lobbies, airports, and backcountry towns.
> Whatever their motives, Wiecking and his co-enthusiasts are showing that
> the prospects for broadband access may not be as dim or distant as most of
> us think. In fact, the Wi-Fi cause may turn out to be a sleeper
> technological movement -- like the Internet itself -- that creeps up on
> the world, gaining adherents without fanfare until it's suddenly
> everywhere. The 802.11 wave certainly has a crucial element all sleeper
> movements share: The utter devotion of a happy band of tinkerers and true
> believers. And they think they've only scratched the surface of what their
> systems can achieve. "You are just seeing the little bird cracking out of
> the eggshell," Wiecking says.
> Wiecking seems to have been born to the cause. The son of a Navy pilot and
> communications specialist, Wiecking moved frequently as a child; one of
> the few constants in those days, he says, was that "we always had antennas
> on the roof." He built his first ham radio when he was 7. Radio became a
> way to combat the isolation he felt as his family traipsed from place to
> place, and he sought ever-better antennas to extend the range of his
> world.
> Wiecking came to Hawaii 20 years ago, right after college. At 43, he has
> an athletic frame; he has run the Kilauea Volcano Marathon for 19 straight
> years. The course traverses a crater floor filled with crunchy lava rocks.
> "They're like potato chips," he says. Very jagged potato chips. "Your
> shoes are toast by the time you finish." For 18 years he taught high
> school physics, where a favorite lesson involved showing students how to
> build their own computers -- and where he was the school's de facto
> computer network administrator. In 1998 he landed a job at the Maui High
> Performance Computing Center as its educational outreach manager.
> Wiecking's wireless quest really got going about two years ago, when he
> and Alan Nakagawa, a local high school biology teacher, seized on 802.11
> networks as a cut-rate alternative to wiring the Big Island's schools and
> to extend their Internet reach. The plan struck a special chord with
> Wiecking; to him, the Web was the ultimate ham radio, an inexhaustible
> source of connection and learning, and he was exasperated by the
> difficulties of Internet surfing on the Big Island. He built his first
> base station at his own home in Kameula; today that house looks rather
> like a missile tracking station, bristling with antennas. Wiecking quickly
> became the island's acknowledged 802.11 top dog. "Nobody knows more about
> 802.11 than Bill," says Marc Benioff, a well-connected tech industry
> veteran and the CEO of Salesforce.com, who owns a vacation home with an
> 802.11 connection on the Big Island. Benioff is sold not just on Wiecking
> but on 802.11 in general; it's the "next killer app. It's going to change
> the world," he insists.
> Two aspects of 802.11 help explain why it inspires people like Benioff to
> such rhapsodies. The first is that the networks are incredibly cheap to
> build. All 802.11 systems have to piggyback on other high- speed Internet
> connections, such as T-1 lines, DSLs, or cable modems. Those become the
> original sources for the Internet signals that an 802.11 base station
> rebroadcasts. But one high-speed connection can support numerous base
> stations. The components of each of Wiecking's base stations cost about
> $1,000, and can in turn support many users.
> An even more compelling aspect of 802.11 networks is that their very
> existence seems to unleash people's creativity, and they find countless
> surprising ways to put the systems to work. Nakagawa's biology students,
> for instance, are regulars aboard "the Hula Bus," named for its Ken Kesey
> paint job. Wiecking equipped the bus with wireless antennas and amplifiers
> so that it can maintain a high- speed link with one of his base stations;
> the bus also acts as a base station itself, so students can collect field
> data and upload it remotely using laptops. "The kids are out doing real
> science," Nakagawa says. He takes students out on the bus to test the
> island's watershed for pollutants and to study whales' migratory patterns.
> At the private Hawaii Preparatory Academy, students also are making the
> most of the wireless network. Jill Quaintance, a 16-year-old junior,
> monitors threatened sea turtles on a beach 20 miles away. "You can go to
> any high point on the island, aim your antenna, and you are streaming
> turtles," Wiecking marvels.
> A camera on the beach beams video via a wireless link to the school, where
> Quaintance watches on TV and computer monitors. She will present her
> findings alongside professional marine researchers in April at the
> International Symposium on Sea Turtle Conservation and Biology in Miami.
> On another part of the coast where turtles bask, Wiecking persuaded
> retiree Mary Morrison to let him use her beachfront house as a base
> station. He and Nakagawa are experimenting with underwater wireless
> cameras for more extensive turtle-watching. The cameras are tethered to
> plastic buoys that they learned how to keep upright from a biologist who
> used to be a minesweeper in the Swedish navy. Morrison is happy to help
> the turtle researchers, and she gets free high-speed Web access instead of
> the dial-up connection she used to endure.
> There are numerous other novel uses for the network. One of Wiecking's
> base stations is on a solar- powered ranger's cabin halfway up Mauna Kea,
> the Big Island's 13,800-foot volcano; the state Department of Fish and
> Wildlife uses a remote camera there to keep an eye on a feeding station
> for the endangered state bird, the nene. The camera streams video back to
> a ranger station at the base of the volcano. Meanwhile, Wiecking's
> 13-year-old stepson, Andrew, recently used the technology for an inventive
> solution to sibling management. He placed wireless cameras around the
> house to spy on his younger brother and sister. "I put a stop to that,"
> says Wiecking's wife, Sydney. "Our bedroom could have been next."
> Wiecking's wireless campaign hasn't always gone smoothly. Like all Wi-Fi
> evangelists, he sometimes encounters tricky technical problems. Since
> 802.11 works in the unlicensed 2.4-gigahertz band of the radio spectrum,
> signals often collide with interference from the dozens of other gadgets
> that use the same frequency, such as cordless phones and microwave ovens.
> There are also line-of-sight problems; buildings, hills, even wet trees
> can block an 802.11 signal. Then there are the social issues. Wiecking's
> early efforts were slowed because some residents feared the technology. He
> recalls some asking, "Are you irradiating our kids?" (The answer is no.)
> Not long ago, he tried to set up a network on the privately owned island
> of Niihau, a cultural preserve where a dialect of Hawaiian is still the
> official language. But educators were concerned about potential cultural
> contamination from the Web, and Wiecking abandoned the effort.
> And how do Wiecking's experiments sit with the telecommunications
> industry? The Wi-Fi movement doesn't yet pose a major problem for most
> phone and cable giants, the companies whose DSL equipment and cable modems
> have caused such frustration. But the potential threat to these firms is
> obvious. One danger is that the high-speed Internet customers of the phone
> and cable companies will join the wireless underground and start
> rebroadcasting their DSL or cable modem connections to others for free.
> The communications companies can be counted on to view that as essentially
> theft, like pirating cable TV signals. They will try to stamp it out if
> the practice continues to grow.
> In a sense the 802.11 movement is where the cellular-phone business was in
> its early days. Without roaming agreements, security innovations, and many
> other improvements, it'll be hard for 802.11 operators to build
> sustainable, nationwide businesses that could compete with the big guys.
> But the number of small wireless ISPs and entrepreneurs trying to
> commercialize the technology is growing fast. Earthlink (ELNK) founder Sky
> Dayton's new company, Boingo Wireless, hopes to create a kind of
> federation of 802.11 hot spots so that someone paying a monthly fee can
> access the Internet in various locations across the country. And there are
> more than 1,000 upstart 802.11 ISPs that are racing to bring broadband to
> places where the lumbering phone and cable companies have yet to deliver.
> For instance, Hurricane Internet is offering 802.11 broadband service to
> about 50 customers in Honolulu. Hurricane connects its base stations
> through its own dedicated T-1 lines, so it doesn't raise the piracy
> problem. "The only reason we started playing with wireless two years ago
> was to compete with the cable guys and the Verizons," says Kalani Miller,
> one of three employees at Hurricane. "We want to eliminate them."
> That won't happen anytime soon, obviously. But Hurricane and other small
> ISPs are establishing a beachhead by bringing the power of broadband to
> people who could not otherwise get it. One of Hurricane's customers,
> physician Dan Davis, heads up Interactive Care Technologies. He's hooking
> up health clinics with 802.11 so that doctors can have video consultations
> with one another about patient care. His next step is to use 802.11 for
> monitoring patients in their homes, particularly senior citizens. Davis
> has developed easy-to-use Web pads for the task; they feature an
> instant-on button, a touchscreen, a miniature camera, and a wireless
> 802.11 modem. "If we can give a senior citizen some extra access to a
> doctor or a nurse, we can delay nursing home admission, maybe forever,"
> Davis says.
> The push to commercialize 802.11 poses one other major challenge -- to the
> soul of the cause itself. Some 802.11 purists believe that their crusade
> started as altruistic and free and should stay that way. They think their
> movement can light the way to a broadband future by continuing its steady
> grassroots advance, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city.
> Wiecking isn't so sure. He has had some notions about how to make money
> off the technology, although it's not exactly a top priority.
> Salesforce.com's Benioff was so wild about a Wiecking idea for an 802.11
> billing system that he recently set Wiecking up with Mark Goldstein, a
> venture capitalist at New Enterprise Associates -- the kind of guy,
> Benioff says, "you get back to the same day." Wiecking didn't e-mail
> Goldstein for several days; by then, the moment had passed. Wiecking says
> he was too busy to contact the VC right away. There were turtle-streaming
> components to fix, and antennas to align.
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