Tales of the Sausage Factory: CUWIN Makes Cool Device

The good folks at the Champaign Urbana Wireless Network have just relased a very cool open source program that, when attached to a device built with components you cna buy in any electronic store, become a node in a mesh network. For less that a grand, you can “unwire” a whole neighborhood. Their press release is reprinted below.

The great significance of this from a Sausage Factory point of view is that federal policy in this area is completely unprepared for the ability of a few folks ona shoe string to develop a new, disruptive technology. Spectrum policy is usually about big companies or well financed start ups. The “two guys in the garage” model is not usual in spectrum, because it is so tightly regulated. That unlicensed spectrum and open source free people to do this sort of thing is yet another good argument for more unlicensed spectrum.

February 1, 2005


Sascha Meinrath



CUWiN Website: http://www.cuwireless.net


Imagine a free wireless networking system that any municipality, company, or group of neighbors could easily set up themselves. Over the past half-decade, the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN) has been developing an open source, turnkey wireless networking solution that exceeds the functionality of many proprietary systems. CUWiN’s vision is ubiquitous, extremely high-speed, low-cost networking for every community and constituency. Following in the footsteps of Linux and Firefox, CUWiN has focused on creating a low-cost, non-proprietary, user-friendly system. CUWiN’s software will share connectivity across the network, allowing users to buy bandwidth in bulk and benefit from the cost savings. CUWiN networks are self-configuring and self-healing — so adding new wireless nodes is hassle-free, and the system automatically adapts to the loss of an existing node. And, because CUWiN networks are completely ad-hoc, there’s no need for expensive central servers or specialized administration equipment.

To set up a network, all end-users need to do is burn a CD with CUWiN’s software (which will be available for free at http://www.cuwireless.net), put the CD into an old desktop computer equipped with a supported wireless card, and turn the computer on. Once the computer boots from the CD, the rest of the setup is completely automated: from loading the networking operating system and software, sending out beacons to nearby nodes, negotiating network connectivity, and assimilating into the network — all the complicated technical setup is taken care of automatically. Unlike most broadband systems, CUWiN’s software builds a local intranet as well as providing for Internet-connectivity — thus, a town that uses CUWiN’s system is also creating a community-wide local area network over which streaming audio and video, voice services, etc. can all be sent.

CUWiN is a cutting edge research and development initiative. CUWiN has pioneered the first open source implementation of Hazy Sighted Link State routing protocol (first developed by BBN Technologies); thus CUWiN’s software creates a highly robust, scalable ad-hoc wireless networks. CUWiN’s route prioritization metric is based on research conducted at MIT and will automatically adapt to any network topology and local geography.

CUWiN’s software is, and always will be, available for free. CUWiN is a non-profit organization supported by grants and donations. CUWiN’s software provides one of the world’s most advanced networking solutions available today; and we are now making our software available to the general public to use, test, and help develop. We know that there are features and improvements that people will want to see in future releases — as an open source project, we are counting on the feedback and input from people around the globe.

More information on setting up your own CUWiN network is available online now at: http://www.cuwireless.net/documentation

The latest version (0.5.5) of the CUWiN software will be available for public download by the end of the week at: http://www.cuwireless.net/downloads

A brief article on the background, history, and ethos of the CUWiN project is available at: www.comtechreview.org/article.php?article_id=259


About CUWiN:

The Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN) has built a communications system using wireless networking equipment. This is essentially the same “WiFi” equipment used in homes and offices, but we put it on rooftops to connect neighbors and form a high-speed community network.

CUWiN’s three-part mission is to: connect more people to Internet and broadband services; develop open-source hardware and software for use by wireless projects world-wide; and, build and support community-owned, not-for-profit broadband networks in cities and towns around the globe.

CUWiN gives communities a new choice for their communications infrastructure by building a house-to-house wireless “mesh.” CUWiN makes it possible for neighbors to share broadband Internet access and services including Voice over IP as an alternative to traditional phone service, and alternatives to radio and cable — such as live broadcasts from grassroots media-makers from Independent Media Centers and “Internet radio stations” in subscribers’ homes.

OJC Technologies (http://www.ojctech.com) is our development home.


  1. Geez. I needed this. On the night of BushCo’s state of the union, which would otherwise have indicated black despair.

    I don’t understand, however, whether there is “enough” unlicensed spectrum available for this technology to become ubiquitous.

    To what extent is it or will it be hampered by existing federal regulations?

  2. Well, I am working on getting another 50 MHz in decent spectrum on 3650-3700. That will hopefully come through in March.

    What we need is a good chunk of clean spectrum with rules that require devices to play reasonably nicely with each other, ideally below 1 GHz, but below 3 GHz is still ok. The 255 MHz chunk of spectrum that was opened in 2003 is problematic because (a) it is above 5 GHz, which gives it not great propogation characteristics, and (b) it needs to avoid military radar. Military radar turns out to be very hard to avoid because (a) you don’t know where the transmitters are — and they won’t tell you because that is secret, (b) you do not know the shape of the emission, and they won’t tell you because it is a secret, in fact (c) all the things about the signal that would make it easy to avoid are things the military won’t tell you.

    Ideal would be to shake loose a chunk of 30 MHz of TV spectrum as part of the DTV transition. That’s a longshot, because Congress wants to auction the whole thing.

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