Black Rock City Wifi Summit 2015
The Black Rock City Wifi Summit 2015 took place yesterday. It was an interesting discussion with a collection of people from inside the Burning Man organization and artists / community who want to provide wifi to their art installation and camps. It was held at the Internet Archive which is a very interesting idea / place.
There are some bits of information that I learned or re-learned while at the summit.
BRC internet basically uses all the available bandwidth coming into Gerlach, around 40Mb/s, to support all the services for a temporary city of 70,000 people.
In 2014, the bandwidth was maxed out on Thursday before the event started.
Internet access is becoming / has become critical for the support of Burning Man. Without it, the event might not be able to take place.
Ubiquiti AirMax protocol deals well with the hidden node problem.
It’s important that the uplink antenna be stable and pointed at the center camp. Movement or misalignment of the antenna causes problems for everyone in that sector by reducing the available bandwidth.
The uplink antenna needs line of sight to the center camp tower.
If you need to use tape to seal anything, use aluminized hvac tape instead of duct tape. The glue on duct tape deteriorates rapidly in the heat and dust of the playa. The aluminized tape will last much longer.
During the weeks before and the event, download is maxed out. The week after, it’s the upload bandwidth that’s maxed out.
At 4:00 and A there’s usually a phone booth that uses VOIP to allow calls to the outside world. Calls are limited to 3 minutes. Because of bandwidth usage, the other side will be able to hear you while you might not be able to hear them. That makes for interesting conversations when you’re stoned.
Don’t use 5Ghz band for access points or other projects. It’s used for the uplinks and putting up local access points (or anything else) in the 5Ghz band will just interfere with the uplinks.
There’s lots of local, on playa bandwidth available. If there’s lots of data that you
Mount the local access points 6 or 7 feet in the air, no higher. This will help reduce interference and the hidden node problem on the local wifi connections.
If there’s any data you want to make available, consider setting up a server on the playa. If you do, let the folks on the BRC wifi mailing lists know about it. They may be able to help let people know about the server by including it on the captive portal page, setting up a dedicated IP address and / or a DNS entry.
Protect the access point and uplink power sources from water and dust. A simple way to do this is to put them in a tupperware type container. Cut a notch near the edge to allow any wires into the container and seal it closed.
There are no guarantees. The bandwidth available is completely subjective to the current needs and wifi in camps and art installations is at the bottom of the priority list.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the folks running the BRC network are at Burning Man to enjoy themselves. Leave them alone and talk with other camps and installations about any issues that you may be experiencing.
Setup On The Playa
There are two main components needed to setup wifi on the playa – an uplink radio and an access point. The uplink radio runs in the 5Ghz band and the access point in the 2.4Ghz band. The recommended uplink radio is the NanoBeam from Ubiquiti. A NanoBridge will work if you have a spare one laying about. The recommended access point is a Ubiquiti Unifi AP.
To start, reset the NanoBeam to factory settings before bringing to the playa can help you save some hassles and wasted time on playa. With it reset to factory defaults, mount it with a clear line of sight to the center camp tower and power it up. It should connect and start provisioning. This can take a while, as in hours depending on what else is going on. Use a laptop to monitor the setup and configuration.
After the NanoBeam has connected, been provisioned and received it’s IP address, connect and power up the local access point.
Consider a Unifi AP Outdoor. The rain last year helped several people discover that the Unifi AP’s aren’t waterproof. Water and playa dust will do corrosive wonders to exposed connections.
Note that the UniFi AP Outdoor 5G runs in the 5Ghz band, don’t use it.. Why? Because 5Ghz is used for the uplinks.
The configuration of the Unifi AP’s that’s downloaded from the playa NOC will most likely include a captive portal that times out after some period. This will help manage the bandwidth needed since you’ll have to re-accept the terms and conditions page to connect back to the Internet.
If you don’t use a Unifi AP, set your access point SSID to the camp name / location and make it discoverable. Set up a captive portal for your users. It’ll help manage available bandwidth and provide service to the community:
I’ve been toying with different ideas for project on the playa of which two seem to be most likely to happen this year.
The first is a local wifi spot and map server but since there will be playamap onsite and there’s lots of local bandwidth available, I think the mapping may get put on the back burner for this year.
It turns out that there were a few like minded people at the summit talking about projects to bring wifi to the masses. I’m planning to work with the folks at http://ki7wv.net/ to create some solar powered wifi kiosks and distribute them on the playa.
Set up a Raspberry Pi image that pulls SNMP status from the Ubiquity NanoBeam uplinks. This will allow an uplink operator to get an idea on how well their connections works over time.