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City uses Linux, OSS for its free municipal Wi-Fi

Rosario, Argentina joins "free muni Wi-Fi" club
Tue Jul 31 2007, 11:34
SINCE LAST week the coastal city of Rosario, home to about a million Argentinians, is among the growing club of cities with free municipal Wi-Fi access.

So when you hit this nice city located 300Km or 187 miles NW from Buenos Aires, you could use the free Municipal Wi-Fi service to read the INQ. It should be noted however that the service is initially available on a VERY small section of Rosario city. Anyhow, it is expected that the city government will extend it to eventually cover most of it.

This service was inaugurated last week by city mayor Miguel Lifschitz. It features "filtered access" to prevent "illegal use" of the network - so we suspect that means P2P and porn will be somewhat limited- and is free to anyone with an e-mail address, you only have to point your Notebook/PDA/Smartphone to the network “MR_GRATUITA” if it shows up in your hotspot finder.

The speed of this free Wi-Fi is limited to 128 Kbps per connection, and there's a toll-free hotline that users can ring at 08008884188 for questions or inquires about the service. People living in the city can also contact them about the service using the city's generic contact and complaints form. It's very praiseworthy and noteworthy that the Sign-up form for the service is also available in English language, besides Spanish. Thumbs up there to the team for taking into account foreign visitors.

The only requirements for using the service is to be in the city network's coverage area -again a very small area until coverage is extended-, and have a validated account (login and password), which in turn requires submitting a working, real e-mail address during sign-up. After clicking on the validation URL provided in your welcome message, you're ready to go.

Small city beats large behemoth

While Buenos Aires is Argentina's largest city, the nice yet smaller city of Rosario in the Santa Fe province beat it in providing free wireless connectivity for its citizens and visitors, why? I can speculate that being a smaller city there was less political infighting and it allowed the city's IT team to operate "under the radar screen" of the various lobbying groups that would have otherwise stalled any real advance on the matter while trying to peddle their commercial kit and non-Free software.

This move by Rosario leaves Buenos Aires with the dubious privilege of having free Wi-Fi on its subway tube, but without free Wi-Fi in the streets. Of course, there's public hotspots at bars and cafes, with the real figure ranging from a couple thousand to several hundred, depending on whom you ask. Sites like WIFI Buenos Aires list 1797 hotspots at the time of this writing, although a recent newspaper article puts the figure at only 587. Who's right?. I don't know, but I'm not going to count them.

Open Source and in-house development vs Commercial implementations

At last year's Expocomm, there was one U.S. company trying to sell its "city-wide Wi-Fi mesh" solution, and even there was a talk by the current -and now outgoing- city Mayor about his "desire" of implementing a municipal Wi-Fi mesh, but nothing came out after the vague promise. That has left Wi-Fi expansion in the hands of the private sector: hotels, coffee shop owners, and the like. Two years ago, coffee chain "The Coffee Store" -a local Starbucks wannabe- began offering free Wi-Fi on its 26 locations, spread in the cities of Buenos Aires and Rosario.

U.S. firm Skypilot at last October at Expocomm in Buenos Aires, promoting their city-wide mesh solution

What is really noteworthy here, besides the "yet another city joins the municipal Wi-Fi race" is that Rosario's Muni Wi-Fi implementation was developed "in-house" by an IT group working within the city's administration, and that Open Source was a critical part of it.

Debian fans (here, one at Expocomm Buenos Aires), rejoice: Rosario's
municipal Wi-Fi runs on Open Sauce software

One of the folks behind this project is is Federico Lazcano, an Electronics Engineer graduate from Rosario's UNR public university and who works at the IT management sector in the city's municipal government. He's a Linux user since the year 2000 -Debian GNU/Linux he remarks- and he points that they have used "Free Software exclusively" in Rosario's Wi-Fi roll-out, "from the access points to the main head-end router".

Lazcano shows the ingredients for this magic recipe: OpenWRT, OpenVPN, Wifidog and Debian GNU/Linux, among others.µ

More about Rosario city
Notable people from Rosario, on the WackyPedia
Rosario's Wi-Fi -English sign-up form
Rosario, public and semi-public Wi-Fi hotspots map
Largest U.S. cities joining "Municipal Wi-Fi" wave
eWeek Muni Wi-Fi news round-up
How Municipal Wi-Fi works
The Urbanisation of a secondary city: the case of Rosario

See Also
Buenos Aires tube gets free Wi-Fi
Argentina ends 2006 with record-breaking e-figures


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