Black Rock City Wifi Summit 2018

The Black Rock City Wifi Summit 2018 took place last Wednesday. As with previous summits that I’ve attended, it was an interesting discussion with a Burning Man tech staff, artists, and various theme camp representatives. The venue was the Thunderdome conference room at the Burning Man Headquarters.

Rolf (sp?) with the org lead a general presentation on the goals, issues and plans for this coming year. In general, he’s asking for frequency coordination to help facilitate access by everyone, to lower noise and such.

The past two years has had troubles with connectivity. For the most part, things just didn’t work. Connecting a NanoBeam to the sector antennas on the NOC tower didn’t work. The ISP had major routing issues and they were late in bringing the backbone online.

The plan for this year is to provide configuration files before heading out to the playa. These are designed to configure a NanoBeam NBE-5AC-GEN2. Other Ubiquiti gear may work but they’re testing and providing configuration for the NanoBeam.

The link between a NanoBeam and the NOC tower gear is on the 5Ghz band. The org is requesting that city participants stay off the 5Ghz band to help facilitate infrastructure connections. Local wifi in camps, art installations, mutant vehicles, etc. should be on the 2.4Ghz band. If the access point provides both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz access, the org requests that the 5Ghz band be disabled. Doing so will help to keep the noise floor lower on that band.

If you already have a project in the works that is using 5Ghz for communications, don’t fret too much. The org will not be using the upper most channel on the 5Ghz band. That’s 5.825Ghz with a 20Mhz bandwidth. It should be easy enough to configure any radio gear already in use to use that channel. Hopefully there won’t be too much interference with other users on the band.

The plan is for the backbone to be live by 8/20. It consists of (2) 130Mbps connections to the ISP. For folks arriving on playa before gate opens, net access has the potential of helping communications greatly. For a city with a population north of 70,000, it’s going to be interesting to see how the available bandwidth holds up. I can easily see throttling of non-org access occurring as the week progresses. That said, I’m glad that the Burning Man org is working to share the resources they have with the city at large.

There was a short discussion on power. The gist is that the Ubiquiti radios want a stable 24v power source. Grounding the radios is also a good thing. That means driving a copper round bar into the playa 2′ – 3′. And use a surge suppressor. There is lightning and static on the playa that can quickly turn the gear into used carbon.

There was also a mention that microwave based communication equipment doesn’t like to sway. So using a pole that’s too high and moves in the wind will cause connectivity issues with the NOC tower.

If you’re planning to attempt local wifi via the org’s backbone, here’s the hardware you’ll most likely need. At least this is the gear I’m planning to bring on playa:

  • Ubiquiti Network NanoBeam NBE-5AC-GEN2
  • Ubiquiti Network Unifi AP AC Lite
  • network switch
  • 24v dc-dc converter
  • some power source, most likely 2 solar panels and 2 12V deep cycle batteries
  • surge protector for use between the NanoBeam and the switch
  • grounding rod
  • mast / tower along with equipment to secure it

It sounds like the org will be using Ubiquiti Network Rocket Prism AC radios behind their sector antennas. I’m not sure if I can gain access to one before heading out to the playa but it would be nice to test the gear and configuration before heading to the dust.

The org asked for the community to help each other out during the week with doctors hours. Basically we define a schedule and recruit volunteers who are willing to be a network doctor. When someone on playa has an issue, they can come to one of these doctors for help. There was also a mention that doctors may also want to be on a particular MURS radio channel during their office hours. I’m intrigued by this idea and intend to host some time at my camp.

There was also a discussion on the use of APRS for tracking mutant vehicle telemetry data. Someone mentioned putting together an on-playa web service that provides a map of the city along with locations of mutant vehicles or anything else using APRS. Unfortunately I didn’t catch the person to talk more before the summit ended but I really like the idea.

As with many summits like this, my to-do / wish list has just expanded:

  • create a local status dashboard for the network connection
    • raspberry pi based
    • ping to local nanobeam
    • ping to tower antenna
    • ping to google
    • current bandwidth in use through local radio
    • local radio ip address
  • bring some fox hunting gear for 2.4Ghz and 5ghz
  • set up a server with ubiquiti’s access point management system (unifi controller?)
  • configure for a captive portal w/ timeout
  • allow other access points to be adopted and push a stable, usable configuration to them
  • host network doctor’s hours
  • test the configuration on litebeams (LBE‑5AC‑Gen2) as I have a couple left over from another project
  • find my murs radios and verify that they still work
  • find a good dc-dc power filter

Good luck and come visit me at Frozen Oasis, we have killer margaritas!

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