Open source can also close markets

Open source can also close markets

Summary: Sputnik, which produces software which makes WiFi proprietary, which they call "venue-branded, access-controlled Wi-Fi networks," is now out with a version that supports the Netgear Open Source Wireless-G Router WRG614L.

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We rightly celebrate how open source opens markets. But it can also close them.

Take WiFi. It is still assumed by many property-owners that they can, and should, control what is done with electromagnetic spectrum within their properties. Because WiFi is low-power, high-frequency waves that attenuate quickly, someone with a substantial footprint can make this dream come true.

Now they can do it with open source. Sputnik, which produces software which makes WiFi proprietary, which they call "venue-branded, access-controlled Wi-Fi networks," is now out with a version that supports the Netgear Open Source Wireless-G Router WRG614L.

This is one of the ironies of open source. Quick access to code lets you close things down just as quickly as you open things up. And it lets you get this to market inexpensively, in this case at prices starting at $99.

I should note here that Sputnik already supports a lot of closed-source routers, and its gear is aimed at building large networks or "hotzones." My problem is with the legal concept, the idea of property rights over unlicensed frequencies, which their gear enables.

The FCC has ruled this illegal, in the case of Logan Airport in Boston, and so long as this remains the case then competition from Sputnik-enabled networks is no problem for me.

But what East Coast Law can enable, West Coast Law can disable. And the price of electromagnetic freedom remains eternal vigilance. Just as with open source.

Topics: Open Source, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

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5 comments
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  • Misunderstanding what the technology can and can't do.

    "My problem is with the legal concept, the idea of property rights over unlicensed frequencies, which their gear enables."

    Yes and no. While it is true it can restrict access in the sense that that particular box can't be accessed without going through their technology, the technology can't prevent somebody else from setting up their own network. It's still technically possible, for example, for me to set up an ad-hoc network using my own devices.

    In other words - it can only prevent access to [i]their[/i] network. It does not prevent access to other networks using other devices which may be in the area.
    CobraA1
    • You're right

      The problem with Logan Airport and the municipal
      WiFi operations was that they ignored this key
      principle.
      DanaBlankenhorn
  • How does a 3rd party application make open source close??

    I fail to see the Al Gore (fussy) logic in this.

    So please explain to me, who does the use of a 3rd party application makes open source a close market??

    wackoae
  • Netgear deserves credit and Sputnik doesn't close routers

    Kudos to Netgear for making an open source router
    platform -- one intentionally designed so that 3rd parties
    can reflash it with different firmware. That makes it
    possible for companies like Sputnik to add a bit of code
    that enhances what you can do with a really cheap AP. The
    base firmware Sputnik loads onto the Netgear WGR614L is
    from DD-WRT and is open source. DD-WRT has lots of
    cool features. The Sputnik Agent is a daemon that can
    optionally be enabled. It is just a tiny bit of binary code
    (yes, proprietary) that enables the AP to be "controlled" by
    business intelligence setup on hosted server software
    (SputnikNet). The business of setting up branded, access-
    controlled hot spots is going to encourage more venues to
    host free Wi-Fi. Wide open APs with no branding and no
    controls are NOT what most venues want to offer their
    customers. The Sputnik Agent code is proprietary because
    otherwise hackers would be able to reverse engineer it and
    figure out how to circumvent the access controls that the
    venues want to place on their customers (such as codes
    you can only get from being inside the store and free Wi-Fi
    use for 2 hours only, then blocked for 4 hours before you
    can use it again.)

    We at Sputnik think that Netgear rocks for making an open
    source router. And having open source firmware to work
    with enables companies like us to let venues inexpensively
    control and brand the Wi-Fi, which in the end should
    promote growth of what we all love -- free public access
    Wi-Fi.

    kgiori
  • I'm a little confused

    I can host a Moodle education application on a website and require paid-for registration. That doesn't make the software or the site proprietary. It also doesn't restrict anyone's freedom.

    So someone can set up a paid-for hotspot. I can set up a free one fright next to them. Their setup isn't proprietary -- it's just closed.

    Even the GPL doesn't require me to give the source code to anyone but my own customers, and I can charge for the media for that, too.

    I don't get this article at all.
    daengbo