On The Road: Wireless Caravan Cruises Down West Coast

When Steven Cockayne and his buddies hit the road this morning for San Francisco, they’ll be taking their wireless network with them.

Cockayne, an ASP and Web programmer in Portland, Ore., is a member of a group of programmers in Portland who call themselves the Janus Wireless Project. They’ve built a mobile wireless network which they’ll use to communicate between the eight or so cars expected to make up their caravan as they drive down the West Coast.

The group is on its way to the CodeCon’03 network and security event being held in San Francisco from February 22-24th. While in San Francisco, they also plan to participate in evening network wardrives, which will survey the extent of wireless hotspots in the San Francisco Bay area.

While making the 14-hour journey down I-5 to San Francisco, the group expects to be communicating not only among themselves, but with the world at large, through wireless hotspots lining the highway. That’s because the Janus Wireless Project has also developed software that can search for other wireless hotspots even while it’s connected to one access point. Much like the cellular network, the software can then seamlessly transition from one access point to another, providing a continuous connection to the Web as long as a wireless hotspot is within range.

The group has tested its software in the Portland metropolitan area, where Cockayne says they’ve found roughly 6,500 wireless access points.

On the journey through Oregon and across Northern California, the group estimates that they’ll pass through 100 wireless hotspots. Once in the San Francisco Bay area, wireless access points will be much denser. “We figure when we hit the gridlock of the Bay Area evening rush hour, we’ll have a near-constant connection to the Internet,” Cockayne says.

Some of the wireless nodes the programmers will take in their cars with them will be standard laptops with wireless cards. The core of the wireless network, however, consists of portable Linux-based servers the Janus Wireless Project built themselves, using EPIA M-Series boards from Taiwan-based VIA Technologies. While travelling at highway speeds, the servers will stream music via Icecast, provide anonymous FTP uploads and downloads, as well as IRC, Jabber and other communication services. Perhaps most important for a day-long road trip by a group of programmers, the servers will also host network game play.

The lead and last vehicles in the caravan will have GPS, to make it easy to track online.

More details are available at the WiFi caravan website: , and on VIA Arena at: .