Chapter 9. Radio Free Sebastopol

My first brush with 802.11b networking in the summer of 2000 demonstrated something very clear to me, even then: it was obvious that wireless connectivity was going to be a tremendously important technology. In the next year, dozens of local community wireless groups (and even a few commercial ventures) have sprung up, building usable networks over the air using 802.11b equipment. This is the story of how an idea to make our corporate network more flexible has evolved, and has become part of a world-wide movement to provide ubiquitous wireless network access.

OSCON 2000

My initial introduction to wireless networking was in Monterey, California, at OSCON (Open Source Conference) 2000. O’Reilly arranged free public wireless access for conference attendees. The tremendous flexibility of being able to connect to the network from anywhere led to all sorts of interesting, unforeseen interactions. For example, people attending a large talk could converse in real time over IRC and discuss the talk (and even critique the speaker) without raising their voices. They could use the Net as a resource when asking the speaker questions, to draw out very interesting points by way of real-time examples. With an instant messaging client, ubiquitous wireless made an effective, free, two-way paging system. (Rather than trying to use the overloaded PCS phone system, it was now possible to send a quick “Where do you want to meet for lunch?” message and get a response back ...

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