Open source Wi-Fi aims for affordable connections

New open source application aims to bring low-cost wireless access to developing nations while existing Wi-Fi players can also benefit from the technology, says developer.

Geeks Without Frontiers, an initiative by Manna Energy Foundation, is at the final stage of building a low-cost, open source Wi-Fi software that aims to provide affordable broadband for all, especially in areas where legacy broadband models have not been considered economical.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Chris Stott, chairman of the foundation, explained that the software was designed to provide wireless coverage over large geographical areas, where a single network can cover many square kilometers.

"We are extending or enhancing the existing Wi-Fi standard to allow radios to communicate between themselves and, thus, provide connectivity where there is no wired infrastructure," Stott said.

While such technology exists today, this is provided in a "proprietary and cost-prohibitive way", he noted. "Our announcement is about an open source version of the 802.11s mesh standard that will be open to all and available for free," he said.

Win-win for developed and developing regions
Rather than compete with existing Wi-Fi players, Stott believes the project is a "win-win situation" for players in both developing and developed regions.

He shared that Geeks Without Frontiers is working closely with Wi-Fi players such as Atheros, Marvell, Broadcom and Intel because the arrival of a low-cost mesh technology represents a "huge potential market" for these vendors.

For such players, access to ubiquitous Wi-Fi connectivity across most metropolitan and rural areas offers a good investment in the devices that make up the infrastructure, he said.

Low-cost or free mobile bandwidth will also drive the use of Internet-connected consumer devices such as smartphones and tablets, he added.

For developing regions, a large Wi-Fi network can provide the benefits of communication and access to information without the time and cost wired infrastructure requires, said Stott.

He added that such wireless connection "will allow a leap forward in technology" especially for emerging nations, by providing access to "the Internet and all that it has to offer" and become a building block of economies and societies around the world.

"We're hoping that this will positively impact many people around the world, most especially the information impoverished," he said.

He also reassured the security of the open source software, noting that it is based on 802.11s, the still-in-development version of Wi-Fi which includes new authorization and encryption scheme.

According to Stott, the original version of Wi-Fi had a very weak security design. While most modern versions of Wi-Fi have good security, he noted that they remain vulnerable to some attacks such as dictionary attacks.

The new standard will include authorization and encryption schemes such as SAE (Simultaneous Authentication of Equals) and AMPE (Authenticated Mesh Peering Exchange), he said, adding that these are not susceptible to any known hacking attack.

Therefore, Stott said, data traveling across the mesh is secured and cannot be compromised.