RealTime IT News

Wi-Fi Caravan Hits the Road

For a 14-hour trip this Friday along the West Coast, a group of wireless enthusiasts are packing a briefcase full of Wi-Fi gear and a map of 802.11 access points from Portland to San Francisco. Dubbed the "Wi-Fi Caravan," the high-tech excursion plans to "demonstrate the freedom of a mobile wireless network."

While the ultimate destination of the caravan is CodeCon 2003, a San Francisco Bay gathering of security and network developers, along the route participating vehicles will stream music, conduct anonymous FTP file transfers, play networked games and use IRC, along with other services.

"We're the kind of guys that get our kicks combining technology and all the fun stuff we can do with it," said Steven Cockayne of the Janus Wireless Project, organizers of the caravan. The Portland-based group develops hardware and software creating mobile wireless networks for 802.11b users.

"We believe the best way to encourage consumers to purchase, customize and use wireless networks is by making them simple to access, fun to use, and portable enough to take with you anywhere," said the group in a statement.

On board the caravan is a briefcase-sized Linux cluster communicating with laptops in the four other lead vehicles. Taiwan-based silicon chip developer VIA Technologies, maker of the EPIA M-Series mainboard used in the "Janus Box", says the road trip "has provided a superbly entertaining technology demonstration of real-life 'Total Connectivity' that really highlights the performance and networking flexibility of our platform," said Richard Brown, VIA's international marketing director.

Cockayne said the main ingredient for a successful mobile network is the software developed by the Janus Wireless Project. The software drivers allow 802.11 systems to continuously scan, then acquire, available access points while on the move.

The caravan leader said their route is designed to take them past public access points provided at Starbucks, Borders and other venues. The journey also will point out many wireless networks now gathering dust.

"The Wi-Fi Caravan aims to show how an 802.11 wireless network can be maintained between several high speed moving vehicles using the existing wireless access node infrastructure, much of which has been abandoned by defunct telecommunications companies in and around the Portland area," said the statement.

Along with proving their software and hardware, the Janus Wireless Project is also using the event to speak about the lack of wireless security.

"Fewer than 37 percent of the wireless access points we have polled are secure," said Cockayne. He says the group went wardriving around Portland and Seattle -- even the Microsoft campus -- and found thousands of open access points.

The Janus Wireless Project will participate in wardriving activities during CodeCon, which runs from Feb. 22-24.

There will be opportunities for the public to participate in Friday's caravan. GPS units will allow the vehicles to be tracked on the Internet. At least six 802.11a/b/g access points have been designated for public feedback. Also an IRC chatroom (#janus on irc.freenode.net) has been created permitting people to ask questions of the participants and help them locate nearby access points.