The State of Wireless London


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A Wireless Festival

This study has been written in the context of establishing the conditions that exist for a potential Wireless Festival for London. To sum up;

– There has been a huge growth in the use of WLANs in London, a trend which looks set to continue.

– The freenetworking movement is maturing and making significant advances in terms of uptake, technical solutions, social networks and a discourse of media freedom.

– Commercial WLAN providers are this year beginning a substantial marketing push to sell high value hotspot offerings, but with perhaps no proven business model.

– A number of public sector WLAN initiatives, many in partnership with community and freenetwork groups, are being started around the city with differing ownership models and media agendas.

– The actual network growth as seen by direct measurement of signals is much higher than that represented by the public databases

– WLANs are being deployed in large numbers in businesses but increasingly in the home as a way of bringing the various digital media technologies together.

– Many of these networks are open and provide a de facto freenetwork.


These factors point towards a large and growing mainstream population beyond the ‘early adopters’ who pioneered the use of the technology and who are using WLAN to cater for their own network needs. This group forms a large potential audience for whom a Wireless Festival would be relevant.


This year several factors combine to suggest that a Wireless Festival would be a relevant proposition in the coming year.

The marketing of commercial hotspots will create a public awareness of WLANs and hotspots. This will focus on WLANs as high value services or products, offering an empowerment in narrow terms of convenience. At the same time the freenetworking movement is becoming increasingly vocal and organised and is expanding rapidly across Europe and the world in many different forms as a self-provided alternative to existing networks.

A number of Public Sector initiatives are this year rolling out across London, and new ownership models based around the social enterprise are being explored. There is also a developing mainstream political debate surrounding the issues of network access and regional development. [58]_

In short, 2004 is a year when a restatement and collection of wireless freenetworking ideas would highlight the progress made in the last years and provide a counter-point and context for the marketing of commercial WLANs, adding to the public debate.

As WLANs look set to move into the living room this year, a festival now would focus on what that change means in terms of control, media creation and usage.


By publicising alternative usages of existing installations owners of the huge installed de facto free wireless network that exists could be made aware of their role as freenetwork providers and be encouraged to build a public city-wide infrastructure. As low-cost meshed networking products come online perhaps the dream of a metropolitan meshed network can become a reality.

Networks are only as useful as what they are used for, what connections and exchange they allow, what media can be created with them, what social relations enabled. A wireless festival should focus on the use of WLAN, and the creative, artistic and practical possibilities that these new spaces can support. Innovative uses of WLAN are already producing new and unexpected media arts directions. The collection and presentation of these should provide further stimulus for new forms to emerge and show how local and democratised content networks can be used.

In the same way that changes in media technologies have prefigured new forms of content, a wireless festival could explore the directions that wireless networked media is taking in London. The format of such a festival is explored further in ‘The Wireless Event Format’ document [59]_.

Let’s celebrate the achievements of the last years and show the future directions and cultural possibilities of the freenetwork and wireless communities in London.