South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Free wireless Internet is online on Warrington Ave.

 

Emma Trimble and Adam Longwill from Meta Mesh display some of the equipment being installed along Warrington Avenue that will help to provide free Internet access in the business district.

Free public wireless Internet service has come to Allentown for residents and the business district within one-half block in either direction of Warrington Ave. from Beltzhoover Ave. to Arlington Ave.

A Biz-Buzz grant funded by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and given by the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) to the technology company, Meta Mesh, helped with the expansion of the community-owned wireless network in Pittsburgh called PittMesh.

The two main uses of the network are resilient Internet access, "and to build a network parallel to the Internet that is not directed to the public but more for the nerdy types," Meta Mesh owner/founder Adam Longwill said.

Five of eight host sites in Allentown are operational.

Allentown is the first free local public wireless network entirely built by independently owned access points.

To celebrate the project known as Wireless Warrington, an open house was held on Nov. 13 at The Hardware Store, 744 E. Warrington Ave., which is where Meta Mesh is based.

The Hardware Store donated Internet bandwidth to get the system, which has the ability to expand and become more robust, up and running.

Josh Lucas, a founder of The Hardware Store, initiated the project with Mr. Longwill.

In addition to supporting the struggling neighborhood, the hope is the project will encourage entrepreneurs to set up shop in Allentown, and others to stay put.

"One resident said he was moving out of the neighborhood. Then he saw what the Hardware Store was doing and became so interested in all the projects, and wanted to participate in PittMesh which he can access from his house, that he plans to stay another year," Mr. Longwill said.

PittMesh is a wireless mesh network constructed by volunteers and guided under the auspices of Meta Mesh.

PittMesh currently has seven nodes mounted, with four planned for deployment.

A community wireless network is a collection of 802.11 wireless routers owned and operated not by a big Internet service provider, but by the actual users of the network. Everyone who sets up a mesh router gains access that expands the reach of the network.

Mesh routing is a method of directing traffic on a computer network.

The benefits of PittMesh include notable improvements over the Internet: cost and freedom. Regarding cost, anyone can join and use its resources. There is no subscription fee or monthly contract.

It is not necessary to sign up for a username or password, and no time limit is placed on users. Anyone with a properly configured wireless router can attach it to PittMesh and expand the geographical size of the network.

"Each part of the network is owned by the person who hosts it," Mr. Longwill said.

Each access point must be within 150-300 feet of another one to be able to communicate with the system. 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.

Anyone interested in adding an access point to their building should email info@metamesh.org.

PittMesh also ensures privacy, which is a big factor in freedom, Mr. Longwill said.

And, when the Internet goes out, users can still have access if they are connected through PittMesh to others.

Mr. Longwill is enthusiastic about the future of Meta Mesh and PittMesh.

"We are looking to repeat our success in Allentown by working with community development corporations (CDCs) in other Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

"We can really make a lot of change without a lot of money.

"We also have the ability to power the wireless equipment with solar power, and take them completely off the power grid," he said.

As for funding, that will come from the CDCs.

"They want to see a change in their communities by bringing a wireless hot spot that extends throughout an entire business district at no cost to the neighborhood," he said.

 

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