Soon, those traveling down or stopping on Warrington Avenue in Allentown will benefit from new technology being installed to provide free public wireless internet service through the business corridor.
A new “mesh wireless internet network” will soon be installed by Metamesh, a technology company based in The Hardware Store, a hi-tech incubator on Warrington Avenue. Josh Lucas, founder of The Hardware Store, with the help of The Mount Washington Community Development Corp. applied for a Biz-Buzz grant from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to make it happen.
“Allentown will be the first free public wireless network that is entirely built by independently owned access points. It really is about democratizing the airwaves. It really is about not one person owning and controlling how information moves through a community, but rather everybody contributing and playing a part in building that service and building that capacity,” Mr. Lucas said.
Metamesh will install six wireless access points with the ability to “talk” to each other on Warrington Avenue between Beltzhoover and Arlington avenues. The Hardware Store will donate internet bandwidth to get the system up and running.
“We believe this is a way to grow free wireless internet in the City of Pittsburgh,” he said.
What it all means is that those visiting, working or even driving through will be able to access free wireless internet along Warrington Avenue in the 600 to 800 blocks. Mr. Lucas explains the service will be similar to the free WiFi someone would be able to access in a coffee shop, but it will be three blocks long and extend slightly in each direction out from there.
And it’s just the beginning.
Initially, the six access points and The Hardware Store’s donated bandwidth is enough to get the system up and functioning. However, the system has the ability to expand and become more robust with the addition of more access points and added donated bandwidth.
Each access point has to be within 150-300 feet of another one to be able to communicate with the system, Mr. Lucas said. More points can be added in-between the first six points, making the system more vibrant or, additional points can be added to expand the network further. There is no limit to how many access points that can be added.
Although the Biz-Buzz grant only covers the first six access points and the equipment to allow them to become part of the network, additional nodes can be added for $150 including having Metamesh install them. The only additional cost is for the electric to operate the node, about the same as using a cell phone charger.
Every access point is also an opportunity to add more bandwidth to the network. During installation, the Metamesh tech will be able to regulate how much bandwidth is used so only the donated amount is used by the system.
The more bandwidth the system has, the more stable the system will become.
“That’s one of the neat things about this model is that people that have the capacity and have the ability can add capacity to the network and people that don’t, people that are stopping by getting a cup of coffee can use that access and go on about their day,” Mr. Lucas said.
It will be different from other free area wide WiFi systems Mr. Lucas says because it will be totally free to users. It won’t be necessary to sign up for a username or password and there won’t be a time limit placed on users.
However, there will be systems in place to prevent abuse and limits may be placed to prevent a few users from using too much bandwidth. So everyone has service, he says.
“For the typical user, nobody is going to notice anything like that. Nobody is going to be stopped from watching a movie on Netflix,” he said. “Nobody is going to be shut off, you would have to be abusing the system for that to happen.”
The Hilltop Alliance will be working with The Hardware Store and Metamesh to identify volunteers willing to have the first six, and hopefully more, volunteers willing to put the access points on their building in strategic locations.
“The thing about putting these up is, the guys from Metamesh, the guys who are doing this build, they’re going to really have to think about geometry. They’re going to have to test how the trees, how the cars, how the trolley running up and down the street may or may not affect how the system is covering,” he added.
The Metamesh team has been testing the system for the last two months and debugging the software and firmware that goes on the access points.
“Hopefully, by the end of summer we’re going to have pretty awesome free wireless internet all the way up and down the business district of Allentown,” Mr. Lucas said.
If anyone is interested in adding an access point to their building, they should stop by The Hardware Store, 744 E. Warrington Avenue, and speak with Mr. Lucas.
“If other people want to get involved and piggyback on this initial build out that will be a great proof of concept. That would be great momentum that we could use to show other neighborhoods in the process of revitalization how this process would work,” he said.
The Biz-Buzz grant will cover the initial build out and expenses for the first year. After that, they will have to find minimal funding to keep the network going, mainly for maintenance.