Community Networks in Europe and CONFINE

What are community owned networks?

Community network is a term used broadly to indicate the use of networking technologies by, and for, a local community. A community network is a computer-based system that is intended to help support geographical communities by supporting, augmenting, and extending already existing social networks.

Community owned networks in Europe:

  • A not-for-profit open community network with more than 16,000 active nodes.
  • Athens Wireless Network (AWMN): A large and diverse network. It can exist and function without the Internet. AWMN’s motivation is to connect people and services in Athens, to encourage volunteerism and active participation, develop technologies and train people in usage of wireless and digital communication.
  • Funkfeuer (0xff): It is a free, non-commercial experimental network in Vienna, Graz, in parts of Weinviertel (NÖ) and Bad Ischl. It is build and maintained by computer enthusiasts. FunkFeuer is open for everybody interested and willing to contribute. One of the goals is to built a unregulated network which has the potential to bridge the digital valley between the social layers and deliver the infrastructure and the knowledge for it.
  • Freifunk: a non-commercial open Grassroots initiative to support free radio networks in the German region.

There are about 30,000 members in these community networks. As Funkefuer says “don’t log into the net – be the net!”.

How community networks help bridge the divide divide?

Through active participation, opportunity, the right of communication is promoted. People or areas which were previously insufficiently connected are now subject to digital inclusion. Studies have shown that internet usage is much higher whenever community networks are present.

The CONFINE project:

The CONFINE project provides community networks experimental testbed for future Internet. This project will enable experimentally driven research on community networks. The focus of this research is how wireless infrastructure can be built at low cost and have an overall large impact in the world especially for developing areas.

Challenges of community networks:

  • Size and scale of the networks.
  • Heterogeneity of resources.
  • Decentralized systems, which are hard to manage.
  • Limited resources and inter-dependency among resources.
  • Making the overall system more dynamic: self-configuration, self-optimization and self-protection.

Testbed and experiments:

The testbed consists of two main components:
– Nodes: hosts with ethernet, net devices such as routers with WiFi, fibre or ethernet connectivity
– Links: wireless and wired

Experiments are performed in realistic conditions such as a substantial and representative sample of community networks. Moreover access at different levels such as from physical to application layer.

Experiments are divided into three types: passive, active and social. Passive experiments capture traces and logs. The idea is to resolve system discrepancies. Active experiments can either be intensive to explore limits of the system or disruptive for instance to test a new allocation mechanism or an application under realistic conditions. Social experiments focus generally on collective awareness and action.

Testbed responsibility by organization and collaborative groups:

  • Software development: UPC
  • Operation and support: Pangea
  • Addition of new nodes:
  • Research uses: iMinds
  • Dissemination: OPLAN

Quick Mesh testbed:

It is a firmware for embedded network devices based on OpenWRT GNU/linux operating system that is being used in CONFINE. Provides an easy way to set up networks independent whether wired or WiFi or a mix of both. It is a fast and reliable way to extend an Internet uplink to end-users. Aim is to enable quick deployments and help make deployment and confirguration easier for network administrators. More information at the QMP web site.

Related learning opportunities:

Contact information:

Dr. Leandro Navarro, UPC
Distributed Systems group

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