There are at least 24 established community wireless network groups of varying sizes in Australian towns and cities, now, if John Mostovoy has his way, there will be one in Canberra.
In 2004, Mostovoy unsuccessfully attempted to get Ozwireless (http://www.ozwireless.net/) off the ground, but the interest level was not great enough. Now he is on the hunt again for more members so that he can get the group established and design its network. He has already mustered 20 individuals and hopes to have 40 members by the end of the month.
There are a lot of business and personal reasons, said Mostovoy, for establishing an active community network.
"From a personal point of view, I like the idea of having a citywide network that you can use at no cost to play online games, make good quality VoIP and video phone calls, watch videos that don't have to be the size of a matchbox due to bandwidth restrictions and costs and a heap of other things that seem to add up in cost or end up in shaping when you try and do them over the Internet," he said
"From a business point of view, I like the idea of being able to turn on my laptop anywhere in Canberra and be able to VPN to my file server or Exchange mail server at the office."
Unlike many of the other wireless networking communities already established, Mostovoy wants Ozwireless to remain as technology-neutral as possible.
"One of the things I didn't like when looking at some of the other wireless communities out there was how heavily they seem to be aligned with Linux and everything is built around for that platform," he said.
"But I've been working with Microsoft most of my career and that is really my comfort zone. So one of the things I'll be pushing with the others is to try and stay as technology-neutral as possible. That is, support everyone to the same level regardless if they are running Windows, Linux or MAC OS on their computer."
The technology to be used for the core network is yet to be decided.
"We will definitely be using some sort of 802.11 setup (most likely 802.11g). Other than that, I'm not sure what we'll use yet - there seem to be a few models out there. Some other (community networks) dictate exactly what hardware and software brands and versions must be used for the core network and others let each member use whatever they want," he said.
"Obviously this is only an issue for the core network and not for general users of the network. I'm sure the group will have some passionate discussions about this topic in the coming weeks."
Ozwireless is unfunded at the moment, but Mostovoy is looking into applying for grants and also vendor partnerships.
INVIDIA, which Mostovoy is a director of, has supplied free hosting and some Web design for the Web site (www.ozwireless.net), he has also agreed to contribute a Dell server and high-end wireless router to help form the core network.
"I've also had some informal discussions with Internode and Netcomm who were both pretty keen to be involved in some way once we get a little more organised. I'm not sure what these relationships may bring at this stage but the discussions to date have been positive and supportive," he said.
Mostovoy said he was sick of being entirely dependant on an ISP.
"The other real driver for this, from my point of view, is that I'm really sick of commercial service providers giving consumers what I call 'low-value for money'. Australia just seems to be standing still or even going backwards in some areas when it comes to Internet and telecommunications services and their value for money," he said.
"For me this project is about creating something valuable for everyone and not worrying about whether or not company XYZ is making enough profit or is going to turn around and change the product line because they have decided that I can't live without their service and they can make another buck out of me."
Mostovoy has had a long history of involvement in the IT sector, coming from a computer programming background and having also worked in telecommunications and now as a project manager and consultant. Most other people involved in the project so far are also quite tech-savvy.
"Most of us seem to hover around the 'power-user' or 'professional' level in our computer and networking experience. There are also one or two guys that are networking gurus who clearly do this stuff for a living," he said.
Mostovoy does not want to leave the average computer-user out though.
"I think it's really important that we make sure our Web site has lots of guides and best practices published for the average computer-user who joins the network to help them secure their own network-connected computers properly," he said.
"I'd really like our Canberra network to reach across most of Canberra and - technology and funding permitting - I'd really like to see the core network link to some of the surrounding regional hubs around the ACT, though that may be some time off."
As excited as he is about community wireless networking, Mostovoy doesn't think it will replace the need for service providers, at least not in the near future.
"Even if some members decide to expose their Internet connections to the rest of the network, they would probably put very tight bandwidth controls over such gateways or face blowing their monthly download limit with their ISP on a regular basis. Internet data charges are still really expensive in Australia, so unless the networks get a generous ISP donor who gives us a nice fat pipe into their Internet backbone, I can't see any community network becoming a real threat to any ISP in the near future," he said.
Community wireless networks are collectives that use wireless LAN technologies and Wi-Fi devices to create groups of clustered computers that can provide a low-cost or even free wireless broadband infrastructure for sharing information resources such as Web sites, e-mail, audio, video, VoIP and other forms of IP communication.