Have a question whose answer isn’t listed here? Drop the CUWiN Team an e-mail at: [email protected].

Q: I live in Urbana-Champaign. What do I need to know?

CUWiN maintains a wireless network in Urbana. While we are constantly working to expand to Champaign, it does not serve our purposes to create two independent networks. We have funded the network through grant money to further our research and development, as well as through a partnership with the City of Urbana. If you live near our testbed in Urbana (you can check that on the network map) and want to join the network, you can volunteer to host a node, or you can purchase and build your own. If you don’t live close to our testbed but you have several neighbors who are interested in setting up a network, you can create your own network by following the steps in our manual.

People must know that the CUWiN network is experimental. We encourage people to join the network and become part of the wireless community, but they need to understand that we make no guarantees about service. We service the network as time permits, but we have a small staff and an even smaller budget. We do everything we can to provide good service, but we encourage each user to remember that they pay us nothing to maintain the network.

Q: Why should I connect to the CUWiN network?

There are many reasons to join the CUWiN network. The most important reason to join the network is to engage in a civic project that seeks to provide broadband Internet access to all residents of Champaign-Urbana. By joining the network, you help us expand access into areas that are currently underserved by DSL or cable providers. In addition to the intangible benefits of joining, there are several services that are soon-to-be available to members of the network, including limited VoIP service, peer-to-peer file sharing, and streaming audio and video. All of these services are available on the community Intranet, making them available only to CUWiN network members.

Q: How do I volunteer to host a node?

While we use the network for research and development, residents who either own their own property or have an agreement with their landlord have volunteered to host our nodes. Volunteering to host a node does not guarantee that you will receive a node, as funding for purchasing nodes depends on the grants that we receive and we will place the nodes where it best suits the network.

Remember, we provide no guarantee of service. If you want to sign up to host a node, you can do so by sending an email to [email protected].

Q: What equipment do I need to purchase to set up a node for myself?
In many ways, this is a trick question. CUWiN software (CUWiNware) is open-source, open-architecture, which means that it can be run on any hardware assuming that someone has already or is willing to port the software to your hardware.

There are two basic setups we are currently using. The first of these is a generic computer system. If you have a spare computer available, that could be used as a node. It doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest, since we are otherwise using systems that are equivalent to 486 computers. Your system must be able to host a wireless card (via a PCI interface) and boot from CD-ROM. The operating system for the node is provided in the form of a bootable CD.

The main problem with using a generic computer is that since the cable between the antenna and the wireless card should be as short as possible and a generic computer cannot realistically be outdoors, the quality of the signal is degraded.

At the time of this writing, we are recommending the second type of node, which is specifically designed to work outdoors. We recommende the Metrix Mark II kits, because (at the time of this writing) they come with two radios, have virtually everything you need to build the node, and we know they work. Unfortunately, they are also rather expensive. Feel free to seek other options, but this is our recommendation at this time.

Q: Where should I put my wireless antenna?
The antenna for the node must be located outside the building. It must also be located as high as possible, and preferably above the roof or higher structure of the building. Generally, the antenna will end up on the roof, attached to the chimney or a mast. This means you must have access to the roof and be willing to have the antenna (& node) installed up there. (We will install the antenna!) If you are renting, the antenna can be installed on a mast on a balcony. However since this strongly reduces the field available to the antenna, this is not an optimal solution. Installing indoors antenna is not a viable option for the project.

Q: How close to another node do I have to be in order to connect up (assuming I put an antenna on my roof)?

Standard 802.11b networks are limited to a 300 foot range indoor, but outdoors it ca reach considerably farther (up to several miles). However, many factors will degrade the signal outdoors, including trees, buildings, other obstacles. In addition, our nodes have low-gain antennas that don’t necessarily reach very far. Finally, topography plays a significant role in the distance the radio wave will travel; flat is best, mountains pose problems. Our standard line is that we recommend starting from the 300-foot range, adding in distance based on line-of-sight and topography.

Q: How does the community network get Internet access?

Internet access on the cuwireless network is provided by local users and organizations who connect their service from their internet service provider (ISP) to the network. In the future, the City of Urbana plans to provide a line as well. Internet access on the cuwireless network is not intended to replace your ISP. In its current state, it is best used for light surfing and not for heavy usage.

Q: I can see the “cuwireless.net” network, but how do I get online?

If you can see the “cuwireless.net” network it means that you are within range of the existing CUWiN network and can set up another wireless node to expand the coverage area. End users do not connect directly to the cuwireless.net network — this network is used solely by the wireless nodes to communicate amongst themselves. If you would like to connect to the Internet, you need to connect to a Wireless Access Point (or other Local Area Network) that is connected to a CUWiN node. Think of the CUWiN network as having two layers — the first (cuwireless.net) is the backhaul layer for the network, and is used solely by CUWiN-based routers; the second is the end-user layer, and may be an off-the-shelf Wireless Access Point, a wired LAN, or even another wireless networking solution. For more information on this, feel free to contact the [email protected] support team.

Q:My computer tells me that I am connected, but then I can’t actually get on the Internet. Am I supposed to download and install the software on your website to this laptop in order to get connected to the node?

There are two layers to the network. The one called “cuwireless.net” connects between buildings — think of this as the backbone of the network. If you want to connect wirelessly to the network itself (e.g., with a laptop or other home computer) you would need to set up a CUWiN node on your house and plug a wireless access point into it. Your laptop would then connect to the wireless access point. It sounds more complicated than it actually is. There’s no software to download on your local computer.

Q: What is the Community Wireless Network developing?

The best way to find out what CUWiN is developing is to read the Research and Development page. If you still have questions, email them to [email protected].

Q: What license are you using for the software?

CUWiN’s software is available for free for non-profit use. The Community Wireless Network is using the following standard 4-clause BSD license:

This code was written by the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network Project and its contributors:

David Young
Sascha D. Meinrath
Zachary C. Miller
Bryan Cribbs