Wireless for the Neighborhood

I called a local company about setting up a DSL line and wireless at my house. Turns out, the guy who runs the company lives three blocks away, his company has done DSL for my neighbor across the alley. And we’ve drank beer together.

I mentioned this to my next door neighbors and they said, “Hey, we want DSL and wireless too!” And then we got talking about how Karen across the street hates her dial-up, and how the other neighbors hate dial-up.

I know that it is possible to have a wireless network that reaches over X area.

But could we have a wireless network that serves all our homes?

And what questions should I ask the provider if it does work?

Detail stuff:

  1. The greatest distance between homes would be about 300 feet.
  2. One person in that range already has DSL from the company.
  3. Security. I don’t want to know my neighbor’s credit card numbers, they don’t want to know that I have a liking for (certain prOn).
  4. No teenagers. I have lucked into a neighborhood where none of us are going to be tying up bandwidth with games, etc. I’m the “neighbor boy” at age 41.
  5. Tech support/the company is about 5 minutes away. When I said, “This is whistlepig.” He said, “Oh, I park in front of your garage sometimes, sorry for that, but our dog’s like each other.”
  6. This guy/company will do us right. Or he’ll never be able to visit again.
  7. If this is possible, we can make it work financially. Nobody’s going to cheat or not invest and then use the system. I have really great neighbors. It’s the “Street Of Old Hippies”

What I’m less worried about in this post:

  1. 802.11a, versus b, versus g. We can sort that stuff out.
  2. Warhacking. But any questions related to that would be appreciated.
  3. Cable vs modem. That will depend on what they provide. They also have some kind of wireless thing that is not DSL/Cable. Has to do with a line of sight to a certain area (which we can do).

So, any and all assistance would be appreciated. What I’m looking for is:

a. Is it possible to do wireless internet for a given geographic area?

b. What do we need to ask the guy/company who will do this?



  1. The house at 300ft distance might have very weak signal, if any. Maybe think about two access points at either end of the neighborhood.

  2. Everyone will be sharing the bandwidth. Peak times may mean slow access. Depends on how many people you are talking about.

  3. Unless you try, you will not see your neighbor’s credit card and he won’t see your porn. But, unless you restrict access to the network (based on MAC address or some other measure), someone with a minimum of technical knowhow could, if they felt like it, park in your street and sniff the network (watch the packets go buy and dump them to a file.) This is not too likely, but still possible.

  4. Nothing to say there.

  5. It’s good that your tech support is minutes away, but after the initial setup, you won’t have too many problems.

  6. Good.

  7. You can share the cost of the DSL connections or a couple of you can just eat the cost seeing as you were going to get it anyway.

Seattle, San Francisco, New York and other major cities (smaller cities, too) have just this sort of set up. Someone willing to eat the cost of the connection opens up their wireless access point and anyone can use it.

  1. Do not worry about a vs b vs g. The router companies do that. There are differences in speed and distance. Go for g, but don’t stress about it.

  2. Wardriving. That is someone driving around looking for open access points. Mostly, it’s done out of curiosity, but, with access to the network, malicious hacking is only made easier. And, like I said, they can sniff the network traffic, capturing passwords, credit card numbers, embarrassing sites visited, etc… Protect yourself by using some form of authentication. You can limit access to the network based on MAC address (unique identifier given to each Network Interface Card, a network name and the simple encryption (WEP) used for wireless networks. Your tech support will be able to help you with this, and the manual for the wireless router will, too.

  3. Cable or DSL, doesn’t matter. High speed access is the key. Wireless router connects to cable or dsl, wireless clients connect to wireless router.

You’ll have to play around with where you put the router (access point) for best distribution of signal.

You can do this for a geographic area and you do not necessarily need the guy/company to do it. But, for any help you need setting up the network, the guy/company and router company’s tech support will be able to help you.

If you like each other, go for it.

  1. We can easily set up two access points. And since my house is in the middle . …

  2. We’re talking a maximum of nine computers. And since we work different shifts, and go to bed at different times, it should be easier.

  3. I’m not too worried about wardriving. It’s a small city, we’re a dead in street in a neighborhood with mostly old hippies. Wardriver’s would probably go by the college or into the fancier neighborhood. And anyone who parks on our street for two long get’s to meet me.

Thanks for the tips.



As leenmi said, the technology is no sweat. The rest of the story though …

Note that most consumer cable/dsl service agreements prohibit connection sharing. Their goal is to prevent exactly what you’re doing: sharing one cost among several neighbors.

Many ISPs do offer “enhanced services” with connection sharing in mind. Just expect to pay a bunch more money for the exact same technical capability.

As a practical matter, if you share your consumer-level connection they won’t catch you until they have a reason to start looking.

But I’m always leery of cheating somebody who owns a computer. It’s practical for folks like that to profitably search for the needle in the haystack. Laying low enough to avoid detection might work for things like sharing analog cable TV or a single POTS phone line, but not something like this.

Also, by sharing against your agreement, you put your neighbor the dsl guy in a tough spot. If he’s aware of what you’re doing and just a mid-level employee or lower, well he’s jepoardizing his job with his silent complicity in your theft of company services.

And if he owns the place or is the local GM, well he’s sure acting contrary to his interests in encouraging /condoning piracy. He may be in for a surprise when clandestine access points start appearing all over the area and his revenues are 20% of what they ought to be.

I suggest you read the fine print of yuor service to make sure you understand what, if any, risks you’re running.

Okay, for starters, even b(the slowest) is going to be faster than DSL anyway and since your not planning on sharing files with each other, it really doesn’t matter. Ultimately, G would be better but more expensive.

If your friend is indeed tech minded enough, he can easily set up the network so that it would take at least 5 or 6 hours to break in if they’re lucky or have inside knowledge. Given that your data is most likely going to be extremely boring and there are hundreds of easier networks to crack, its quite likely nobodys going to bother. Here are some things you should be doing:

  1. static IP’s
  2. MAC filtering
  3. WEP
  4. turn broadcast off
  5. firewall

That should stop most anyone.

The second point would be coverage and range. You either have a choice of increasing coverage at the sender or reciever end. I dont see an elegant way for 2 AP’s to work without 2 DSL connections. try and source an AP which you can attach a high gain antenna to and network cards that also have high gain antennas. Place the AP as high as you can and away from any obstructions. An attic would be ideal.

Yes, and you can be certain that you can be detected if the ISP wants to. There was a very good article lately in the C’T (a German computer magazine) about how this can be done - complete with diagrams showing the results from their own (legally operating) equipment.

It is a slick trick, and can also be worked in reverse. They used it to determine how many servers were behind the load balancing proxy of a large ISP, and to determine the load on the http servers of another magazine here.

You can be detected - if the ISP takes the time to bother.