Posted by: Dr Churchill | December 8, 2014

Open Wi-Fi

What is Open Wi-Fi?

Same as it has always been…

The easy way to connect seamlessly to the internet or to the local wireless network with any Wi-Fi enabled devise.

It’s the community way to connect to the “Commons” the digital commons of your neighborhood, in your home, in your office, or on the road.

You can find it and connect nearly everywhere, and even in the airport, and the port, of the little distant island of Borneo, where the Iban headhunting people still live.

Open WI-Fi is available in New York’s meatpacking district, or in the heart of Oakland’s tribal neighborhood, and even in the Badlands of North and South Dacotta inside the Rez.

That is Wi-Fi. Freedom to connect. Anywhere. And to have it open — the deal is simple: You allow others to connect to your router, and in turn, you connect to theirs.

Simple sharing exchange.

Only today things are a bit cloudy…

With Open Source, open code, open systems, Open Software, open stack, Open Internet Architecture, Open Cloud, and my all time favourite, whose name, term, and practice, I invented, the Open & Wireless Internet — Wi-Fi, we are all living out in the open.

And we occasionally enjoy the venerable and mighty community builder, the Open Wi-Fi, when and if we happen upon enlightened communities that care enough to built and maintain this Open Connection of the People’s Brains and Hearts for the benefit of the sharing and caring for each other’s betterment.

Yet today when it seems like everybody’s talking about “open” this or Open that — all the Wi-Fi is locked down with passwords and user names making it hard for anyone to get through.

People talk lots about Open nonsense, from Cisco making claims to open up it’s architecture, to new companies embracing open source code as a means of developing or accelerating their go-to-market strategies — but opening up their basic router of Wi-Fi to allow access to each other they don’t do.

Folks open up your Wi-Fi and unleash your power to share. That is true sharing economy because this is just the first act of your human kindness and it represents an invitation to connect. Open up your wi-fi to everybody and  you’ll see that it is a bit like smiling to the world and inviting the Goodness of the people to come in and converse.

Who doesn’t want that?

But we prefer to talk about open like good Christians, yet seldom do we practice that talk. And it has become a sort of nonsense, because it often confuses and obfuscated the real issue of our fear to tread and share, and that makes us unable to see what “open” really mean.

So what does Open truly mean?

Mind You “OS” as in “Open Source” doesn’t mean that anymore but it means Operating System as is commonly referred to today, when we confront OS in all the Tech literature…

The marketing muscle of all the software giants like Microsoft, Google and Apple, have usurped this term for their own. And as we all understand — the main challenge in using a broad amorphous term like “open” is that it can lead to confusion or as a consequence of corporate greenwash it can lead to a negative first impression that “this is just marketing.”

To get some perspective, let’s look back a bit and see how we got to this point of open and what the original intent was.

Open systems are computer systems that provide some combination of interoperability, portability, and open software standards. “Open” can also refer to specific installations that are configured to allow unrestricted access by people and/or other computers, and this meaning is where I come into using it for my innovation around Wi-Fi and Open Community Networks.

The term “open” was popularized in the early 1980s, mainly to describe systems based on Unix, especially in contrast to the more entrenched mainframes, minicomputers, and engineering workstations in use at that time. Unlike older legacy systems, the newer generation of Unix systems featured standardized programming interfaces and peripheral interconnects. Third party development of hardware and software was encouraged, which was a significant departure from the norm of the time. We saw companies such as Amdahl and Hitachi going to court for the right to sell systems and peripherals that were compatible with IBM’s mainframes.

The definition of “open system” became more formalized in the 1990s with the emergence of independently administered software standards such as The Open Group‘s Single UNIX Specification. As client/server networking took hold in the late 80s and early 90s, switching vendors followed this tightly-coupled design rationale. Every aspect of a vendor’s solution was designed around tight integration of the OS with components and subsystems, from memory allocation, to managing CPU utilization, to the forwarding ASICs. Differentiation was driven up from the system architecture designed around custom components.

In the late 90s, the component industry and “white box” or ODM (original device manufacturers) started to take more ownership of subsystem and system design. This started us back onto some degree of abstraction. Switches were being built that could have the CPU easily replaced; different types of memory components were another example.

Related to the above history, the mainframe to the PC transition, we discussed how the PC brought forth the idea of hardware and software abstraction. That brought us to the idea of the OS as something that could also be open, with a set of tools that fostered application development.

And then the server opened up. Over the last 15 years, much has changed.

On the server side, we have seen the transition from Microsoft to Linux and new business models evolving from companies like Red Hat. Then we saw abstraction re-emerge through server virtualization, and the idea of white box servers to drive the hardware agnostic thinking once again, similar to the PC

Now we are looking at a similar evolution on the network side. Some say SDN drives hardware-agnostic thinking. Having said that, many vendors still hold on to that mainframe idea that “my apps will only run best on my metal.”

So to summarize our first idea, if the network follows this seemingly well-traveled path, just like we saw with early Unix systems, third party development of hardware and software was encouraged, which was a significant departure from the norm of the time.

Here’s what hardware agnostic thinking can bring to networks. First, like PCs and servers, hardware abstraction creates operational consistency. That drives down costs over time. The second thing it brings is transparency – you can look inside to see not only Intel, but gain better visibility to truly control your traffic. The idea of external programmability opens that Cisco Pandora’s box but in a good way. Now you can decide how and when to forward traffic that might need that level of granular control.

So to a large extent, the idea of open network hardware delivers freedom to choose the capacity, port configuration and even color of your “box.”

Now with those early Unix systems, there was another attribute: standardized programming interfaces. So let’s extend the idea of open to the network to the idea of programmability, and that takes us to the ability to tune the system, which is the goal of open-source projects like OpenStack.

So how do we tune an OS or a “stack?”

One means for all vendors to help here is to offer a variety of interfaces for programmability — so called application programming interfaces or APIs.

So called Open APIs, often referred to as OpenAPI new technology, is a phrase used to describe sets of technologies that enable devices, websites or applications to interact with each other by using REST, SOAP, JavaScript and other web technologies. Linux is also becoming a popular means to “program,” largely driven by the DevOps thinking we all see in cloud environments.

In the case of OpenStack, plugins for your network OS would ensure an OpenStack command is accepted and acted upon – the network can be programmed to conform to an application need. From the stack perspective, APIs at each level would help shape the degree of tuning you did to better suit your needs.

And that’s fine for your business and person, but on the grand scheme of things, you need to open up your connectivity via an Open Wi-Fi at both home and office. And the first global example of this when we start turning on the Open Oakland initiative of a fully Wi-Fi connected community.

This is what we envisioned when we built seattle Wireless. An Open Seattle.. And an Open City everywhere…

But all the Telcos attacked in unison like a pack of hungry hyenas and closed down all the Wi-Fi in that city, and started multimillion dollar lawsuits against me and against the people sharing their connection. And your truly fought hard and prevailed but the people got scared and shut down their routers… And the Cable companies and the Telcos killed Wi-Fi, but also went ahead and preconfigured all the new routers to be sent, bought, delivered, with passwords and user identification controls. And today in the era of “open” still all the cable boxes and wireless Internet routers — even when your choice for the Wi-Fi router is set to “Open” are all coming closed down.

The fear of the network carriers, the Telecom operators, and the Cable utilities, is thus served. And as if that is not enough that fear is served on a nicely decorated PR platter, to the people, causing paralysis, and in effect closing down the inherently free Wi-Fi depriving the community of the greatest asset ever.

That is the reason why the Wi-Fi networks, are now proprietary, thus fragmenting and outright shutting down the Wi-Fi communities we intended to built in the first place when Wi-Fi was envisioned.

But we are going to revolutionize Wi-Fi again. Because that is exactly what we have to do, since we lost our way. We have to reopen the Wi-Fi networks in order to serve ourselves and our communities. We will open up the Wi-Fi everywhere because it  the only way to serve us, as intended. And your router at home and work is key for this.

So Open Up your Router without password today in an act of revolutionary kindness and radical Love of Community building and you’ll never be alone anymore in building this Human brain on the global and hyper local scale too.

Do this for Christmas and you’ll receive many gift from the community all around you.

And Open is now the way to go.

In a few more years we’ll look back and recognize that there never should have been any other way, but for now let us enjoy the Light coming through the cracks that the slowly opening architecture of everything allows to seep through.




So to summarize this aspect of open, APIs can help support open source projects, where the standardization is the common set of APIs, with the result being a stack tuned to better meet your specific needs.

And from the network OS point of view, just like you tune a server OS to meet your needs, the idea of tuning the OS for specific application environments is something to consider.

If history repeats itself, we will see more hardware abstraction on the networking side, and we will see more and more agreement amongst vendors on a common set of APIs.

But am hoping that through my work the Open Wi-Fi will become the Global Standard for all of us and that way we shall all become part of the intelligent and mobile Global Brain…

That’s my fervent Wish — just saying — in case you are wondering what to send me for Christmas.

Turn your Wi-Fi router open without password and that will please me no end.

Maybe Santa Claus is hearing me.


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