Columbia Heights Wireless

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The discussion list for this project is neighborhoodwireless@hacdc.org.

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[edit] Proposal

This project, in its current form, will be announced at the June 17 member meeting

The Columbia Heights Wireless Project aims to provide wireless access to the Internet to HacDC's neighbors in Columbia Heights. This project, in three phases, will help test different technologies and methods for providing this access as well as building local neighborhood IT infrastructure.

[edit] Phase One: Rewire St. Stephen's Church

St. Stephen's Church is used by many community organizations, each of which are responsible for obtaining their own Internet and Telephone service.

There are potential costs savings for the church and its tenants to upgrade the IT infrastructure of the facility, allowing the church and tenants to share common Internet access and Telephone service.

After assessing the needs of the church, its tenants and occasional guests from out of town, HacDC will draft a plan to re-wire the telecommunications and networking infrastructure of the church. Prior to consultation with the tenants (this consultation meeting is scheduled for June 13) this phase has the following goals:

  • Replace the IT wiring infrastructure of the church.
    • Remove all "dead cables" from the exterior and interior of the church
    • Run house cable to church office and basement and other key areas of the church, reducing need for cabling on the outside of the building and/or expansive cable runs within the building
    • Replace the demarc with more modern equipment (should be done by Verizon)
    • Install wired outlets in offices and other places they may be necessary
    • Run wire to ares where wireless access points may be deployed
  • Provide building wide Internet access
    • Replace multiple DSL lines with one solid, very high speed internet connection
    • Install building router to handle and segregate internet connection
    • Provide church and its tenants with private subnet
    • Provide wired network access to tenants who require it
    • Provide infrastructure for building-wide wireless network
  • Build church wireless network
    • Provide private wireless networks to tenants who require it
    • Provide public wireless network for church and tenant guests, etc.
  • Integrate church security system into building wide network
    • Replace existing church security and entry system (see also Physical_Access_Control_Project)
    • Provide method for tenants to view persons outside the building and allow building access

[edit] Phase Two: Provide Wireless to the Housing Project Surrounding the Church

Once the hurdles of providing wireless to a given area (the church) are handled, the goal is to extending the public church network to the housing project which surrounds the church. The goals of this project are relatively less complex:

  • Provide public wireless accessible in all rooms of the development around the church
  • Work with community members on best methods for building and supporting a public wireless network
  • Deploy specialized equipment on the roof of the church and possibly on the development property
  • Work out technical challenges present in extending the public network beyond church immediate line-of-sight

[edit] Phase Three: Provide Wireless to Neighborhood Buildings

  • Provide public wireless available throughout Columbia Heights
  • Attract public and government support to make such a public wireless network viable and sustainable

[edit] Implementation

A meeting was held with the church coordinator and a few tenants on Friday, June 13th, to assess the needs and scope of the project. As outlined above, it looks quite viable, with a few considerations:

All the tenants we met with are currently using some form of DSL or dialup access. They'd all be happy with a plain vanilla shared connection, using whatever sort of upstream we find appropriate. One tenant (CISPES) uses VoIP phones, and at least one other (Brainfood) uses Skype heavily, so QoS factors (latency, jitter) are important.

Telephone needs were also discussed. Most tenants have POTS lines into their spaces, with a few using cellular phones exclusively, and one using VoIP, as mentioned above. There's at least one FAX line. The POTS customers weren't averse to going VoIP at some point in the future, as long as they can keep their existing numbers.

As for security, it'd be nice to distribute front-door video to each space and provide tenants with an intercom and a way to buzz guests into the building. This would let the church go down to a nighttime guard only, saving the cost of the daytime guard.

In my (Nate B) professional judgment, the voice and video projects should be considered separately from the data project, except where it would be wise to combine cabling installation. Running a PBX is a wholly separate set of administration skills and maintenance considerations. Likewise, assembling a video distribution network and interfacing with the door lock system is a separate job, only related because it also involves running wire in the building.

Since inexpensive baluns are available to transmit video over a single pair of UTP, a single additional run of Cat-5 to each space should be adequate to support the access project. Since wire is cheap compared to labor (even volunteer labor, trust me!), I don't think there's any such thing as pulling "too many" drops into each space. Leave the unused ones coiled and tagged in the ceiling if need be, but run extra cable now.

The next steps for the first phase, then, are as follows:

  • Formally present this project at the next HacDC meeting and get member approval and buy-in.
  • Obtain, or draw, floor plans of the building. Scope out good cable routes, be they inside walls, above drop ceilings, or held in surface wiring raceways.
  • Perform a site-survey to ascertain the RF propagation characteristics of the church building. Plaster lath walls are notorious for eating wifi signals.
  • Determine whether it's appropriate to do everything as a home-run to a single closet, or to have "vertical" house-cables that appear on each floor. (I like home runs. --Nate B.)
  • Pick a location for a wiring closet. In addition to patch panels, it should be able to hold (and provide cooling for) a moderate amount of infrastructure gear: A DSL modem, a router, an Ethernet switch or two, a midspan PoE injector, a video distribution amplifier, a small PBX, and whatever lock control system gets built. A bit of room for growth would be good, to allow for scope creep.
  • Solicit donations of wire, jacks, accesspoints, and the above infrastructure gear.
  • Evaluate potential upstream connections. Nick mentioned that point-to-point microwave access may be available in our location. Consider multi-homing the network, if financially practical.
  • Contact community members who'd be interested in helping the project and learning to maintain and administer the network.
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