Cafenet sets opening date

Wireless metropolitan access network Cafenet is set for launch into full operation on November 29.

Wireless metropolitan access network Cafenet is set for launch into full operation on November 29.

Run by Wellington’s fibre-based metro area network operator, Citylink, Cafenet is currently in beta phase, with about 30 nodes in 10 locations through Wellington's CBD. But developer Hamish MacEwan has not given up on the prospect of installing enough nodes for full CBD coverage.

Anyone in a suitable "hotspot" can hop on to the network, simply by setting the appropriate parameters in a standard Wi-Fi (802.11b) card in a laptop or other device.

By bringing up the card’s Client Manager and specifying cafenet, users will be connected, taken to the Cafenet website and invited to buy a traffic volume allowance, at $20 for 120MB, through an ordinary online credit card transaction.

Telecom wireless offerings, by contrast, run to several hundred dollars for a similar allowance.

MacEwan would like to find some way of putting in place a time-charging scheme, which would make more sense than charging for data volume on a network where the available volume probably exceeds the cumulative needs.

Eighty users were involved in the alpha trial. Many of those are still active, and new users have logged in from time to time during the beta phase. "We’ve had four or five random people off the street," he says.

He estimates that 200 regular users will recoup the costs of running the network.

Getting customers is a "very volatile, word-of-mouth business", he says. "I’m aiming at 2% of the target market", this being the estimated critical mass from which high growth will start. Cafenet has been priced low with the intention of attracting those high volumes.

The inherent features of the network basically allow Cafenet users simply to communicate with one another and to access an internet gateway. Security is not the responsibility of the network, says McEwan. The traffic is not even encrypted. The overhead of that would impact all users adversely. Instead Cafenet follows the precept of network expert David Eisenberg that "security belongs at the edge". It is up to the user and his or her "home base" to set up a private virtual private network if they don’t want other users to see their data. During log on users see a "health warning" about the lack of in-built security.

Eisenberg will be visiting New Zealand later in November and will officially launch the network into its operational phase.

There are 10 Cafenet nodes in the Wellington Town Hall -- it probably doesn’t need that many, but that’s what the proprietors asked for, he says, and it’s wise to have some redundancy -- five in the Michael Fowler Centre and two in the central library. The James Cook Hotel is also being equipped, as well as several smaller venues around town, such as the Espresso Republic café, where MacEwan demonstrated the network for Computerworld.

The network, MacEwan agrees, enables some possibly dubious activities such as transcribing in real time for an outside audience the addresses at paid conferences; but stopping that is not the network’s responsibility, he says.

At least one group of developers, working for a bank in Wellington, uses Cafenet to access files and email back in their offices; something that would otherwise be obstructed by the bank’s firewall.

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