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Additional Reading

We strive to be transparent by ensuring that any member of the public, regardless of their base knowledge of WiFi technologies, can understand our mission. That’s why we created a glossary of terms, an FAQ page, and a list of technical resources available on this website.

Please contact us if you have any questions or recommendations for improving the accessibility of our resources.

Research

COVID-19 Notice

Given that our most recent report on the scope of Digital Divide was conducted in 2018, we know that these metrics do NOT reflect the growing number of individuals who need WiFi because of hardships caused by COVID-19. Due to reduced hours, layoffs, and whole industry shutdowns, we must assume that there are more people who cannot afford residential Internet access in Pittsburgh. We must also consider those who do have Internet access from telecom giants, but the bandwidth of discount packages often does not support multi-device functions. For example, a parent who has to work remotely cannot do so while their child is video-conferencing into online classes on some providers’ lowest “broadband” tier of access.

While an updated statistic of residents without WiFi has yet to be determined, we are currently working with an increasing number of community partners to serve remote workers, online students, and families in need.

Heinz Endowment Grant

In May of 2018, The Heinz Endowments awarded Meta Mesh a $15,000 grant in order to survey and analyze “home Internet access and a sustainable approach to public WiFi in three under-served Pittsburgh communities.” We chose to execute our project in Hazelwood, Homewood and the Hill District not only because as low-income neighborhoods they demonstrated need, but also because they are “target neighborhoods” where Heinz also focuses its efforts.

We had two general objectives for these three areas:

  1. Research: to gather our own survey data regarding Internet use and more specifically, broadband exclusion.
  2. Operational: to plan logistics, including the placement and location of access points, to provide a minimum viable WiFi network suitable for public use.
  3. We completed more than 900 surveys and several in-depth interviews, all of which were conducted door-to-door by Meta Mesh employees throughout eight months.
  4. Our cursory conclusions include:
    1. A majority of residents in all low-income neighborhoods rely on smartphones to access the Internet. However, this method of accessing the Internet does not qualify as having home broadband and creates severe limitations to what can be accomplished and greatly increases the time it takes to accomplish tasks.
    2. Broadband Internet access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion, not a consequence of it; and the people in low-income communities know this. Whether or not families work with public or private Internet support systems, they still suffer from skill gaps, and “taxes” on their time and privacy.
    3. Price is merely one element shaping the delicate balance of including home broadband into the monthly budget. ISP (Internet Service Provider) pricing issues go beyond the obvious challenge of steep monthly fees. Upfront hardware costs, billing transparency, the inability to assess the quality of service, and general service availability are major issues for low-income communities.
    4. Public organizations that offer free public WiFi such as libraries, community centers, and parks often fill the gap between low home adoption and high community demand. Libraries and community centers also provide a number of other critical services, such as training and support. These support organizations are under social and government pressure to meet community connectivity needs, and yet their public funding levels are at an all-time low. This is why the efforts of Meta Mesh are so important: libraries and community centers have hours of operation and long waits for a turn at a public computer. Public WiFi can be accessed at all hours of the day.

The full report titled Home Internet Access and A Sustainable Approach to Public WiFi in Three Underserved Pittsburgh Communities is available for your consideration.

Glossary

We created this glossary to ensure that anyone, regardless of their previous knowledge of WiFi technology, can use it to get an understanding of WiFi lingo. Terms are defined and put into the context of Meta Mesh’s operations. This list is by no means exhaustive — we are continually updating this resource to make “tech talk” more clear. If there is a term in our materials that you wish was defined more clearly, please contact us and let us know!

Access Points (APs)
No definition available
Bandwidth
Bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data that can be transferred via internet connection within a certain timeframe. This is calculated as megabits per second (Mbps).
Broadband
Broadband is used to describe faster internet that is always on (as compared to Dial-up access, which is slower). Meta Mesh uses Wireless Broadband Connections, which you can read more about here.
Cell-Tower-Based-WiFi Hotspot
Our WiFi Wagon Kits are equipped with Cell-Tower-Based-WiFi Hotspot technology that can connect any area (no matter how far) to the Internet. These kits are conveniently mobile and can be driven to wherever they are needed.
Community Wireless Networks
The Meta Mesh Network is a Community Wireless Network because it operates through radio waves (rather than landlines), and we serve a specific community (City of Pittsburgh/Allegheny County).
Customer-Premises Equipment (CPEs)
Although we don’t consider our network users “customers” because we are a non-profit organization, you may see this term used on the Meta Mesh Technical Resources page. For our purposes, it simply refers to the access points and in-home WiFi equipment (such as routers) that are placed inside or outside of residents’ homes.
Digital Divide
The Digital Divide is a concept used to describe the gap in telecommunications access between different socio-economic groups. We have identified neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area that have lower than average connectivity rates per household. We focus our projects on these underserved areas. Given the wide-spread effects of the COVID-19 Crisis, there is an increase in the number of Pittsburghers who need reliable access to the internet. Read more about this evolving issue here.
Electrical UPS Networking Box
No definition available
Encryption Services
No definition available
End-to-End Encryption
No definition available
Gravity Mount
No definition available
Grounding Cable
No definition available
High Point Location
When we construct radio towers, or request to put equipment on top of existing structures, we look for locations that are high up (i.e. on top of a hill) to get a clear line of sight to other towers. Meta Mesh has to strategically select High Point Locations to avoid connection interruptions because we use radio waves instead of ethernet cables.
Line of Sight
We use the term “Line of Sight” to describe the strength of the connection between towers and routers. If you can “see” one tower from the top of another, that means there are no physical disruptions between the two sites.
High Foliage
High Foliage refers to areas that have physical barriers that can interrupt the connection between towers and routers. These barriers may include treetops, buildings, or other intruding objects.
HTTP
No definition available
HTTPS
No definition available
Indoor Networking
In the Cathedral of Learning Supernode design, the four HD PtMP Sector Antennas will be connected to the PennREN network through wiring inside the building (Indoor Networking). The Indoor Networking materials in this case include a Switch, Router, UPS, and the PennRen fiber cable.
IP
IP stands for the “Internet Protocol” used to communicate over a network. It refers to the hierarchy of stages that delivers packets of data from one host to another.
IP Address
The IP Address is a specific numeric name for every Internet using device. Every computer has a different IP Address.
ISP
ISP stands for “Internet Service Provider.”
KINBER
KINBER (Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education) provides network-based connectivity and services across Pennsylvania. They provide Meta Mesh with a connection to the Internet, and we distribute that access locally in Pittsburgh.
LTU Equipment
LTU Equipment is the name of a line of PtMP networking devices that Meta Mesh buys from Ubiquity.
Maker Space
No definition available
Mast
In the Cathedral of Learning Supernode design, the four HD PtMP Sector Antennas are each secured to a mast that allows Meta Mesh to adjust the height and directionality of the antennas.
Mpbs
Mpbs stands for Megabits per second used to the rate (or “speed”) at which data can be transferred across a network.
Mesh Networking Technologies
No definition available
On-mesh
No definition available
Node
No definition available
Hidden Node Problem
No definition available
Super Node
No definition available
Open-Source Software
No definition available
PoE Outdoor Ethernet
No definition available
PenREN Fiber
PennREN is the name of KINBER’s file optic network spanning across Pennsylvania. Meta Mesh connects to PennREN through a cable that is inside the Cathedral of Learning. Meta Mesh then projects that connection to other areas of Pittsburgh through High Definition Sector Antennas.
PittMesh
PittMesh was the original name of The Meta Mesh Wireless Network.
PMtP
No definition available
PtP
No definition available
Public-Space WiFi
No definition available
Radio Tower
No definition available
Router
No definition available
Motem
No definition available
SEEN
SEEN is Carnegie Mellon University’s Sustaining Equity in Education Network. In 2020, SEEN partnered with Meta to develop specific projects in under resourced Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Sector Antennas
No definition available
Steel City Information Security
No definition available
Switch
No definition available
UBNT
UBNT is an acronym for the company Ubiquity Networks, which is where Meta Mesh sources all the hardware needed to support the network (antennas, access points, etc.)
UPS
UPS stands for “Unlimited Power Supply.” In the Cathedral of Learning Supernode design, the Indoor Networking plans include a connection to the building’s Unlimited Power Supply of electricity to power the antennas.
VPN
No definition available
WiFi Assistant
No definition available
WISP
WISP stands for “Wireless Internet Service Provider.”
WPA2 Enterprise
No definition available
802.11
No definition available

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is a WISP? What’s WISP?

    Why would I choose a mesh/WISP structure rather than telecom-provided internet?

    How do the speeds of different kinds of networks compare?

    The Federal Communications Commissions defines 25 megabits per second as broadband access. You can see speed comparisons between different Providers in the table above. For a more in-depth breakdown of what functions are supported at different speeds, take a look at this resource: https://broadbandnow.com/speedtest

    Do you have a map of what your network covers/everywhere you are?

    Yes, we do! Here’s the link to our live map. This feature is under construction on our website

    Does Meta Mesh use new networking technologies (like 5G or TV White Space)?

    Our solution is a low-cost and scalable way to distribute Internet access and build a standalone network at moderate speeds. That means, we are not the fastest WISP out there. We focus on bridging the Digital Divide by providing dependable networking services (In-Home and Public-Space WiFi) to communities that could not otherwise afford it. Bleeding-edge technology is not our priority.

    How does a Community Wireless Network provide “free” WiFi?

    We are the first non-profit WISP in the country to deploy networking services on a city-wide scale. As a non-profit organization, we rely on three key resources to sustain our efforts: 1) grant funding 2) individual donations 3) earned income from contracted work. So, the work we do is not “free,” we just look to sources other than the individual resident or household for revenue. Rather, we ask our users for a $10/month per household suggested donation to help cover maintenance costs. That being said, we NEVER shut off services to households who don’t contribute donations, and we assist communities in finding sustainable ways to cover any incurred costs.

    Is The Meta Mesh Network secure?

    MMWC uses the same 802.11 security measures that other big name ISPs use. While the WPA2 Enterprise is the global standard for WiFi, it is not “unbreakable.” However, it is extremely unlikely for a breach to occur. For more on the technological capabilities/limitations of WPA2, we recommend watching Jon Zeolla’s Talk on the subject. Jon works with Steel City Information Security and is very well-versed in how bad guys break WiFi security.

    In-Home WiFi: Those who receive our In-Home WiFi services will be provided with a pre-configured router that ensures the device is connected to our network and functioning at its highest capacity. Just like the residential WiFi you may get from Comcast or Verizon, your In-Home network will have a personalized name and password. Please be cautious about who you provided this information to in order to maintain the general security of your In-Home WiFi network.

    Public-Space WiFi: Like other Public WiFi networks, our Public-Space WiFi is an open network, and therefore any traffic you send is not encrypted by the WiFi router itself. This means that it is easily readable by anyone nearby. An open network is advantageous for outdoor public areas, because a password is not required, which allows anyone who needs WiFi to hop online at will. With that said, we recommend you only use HTTPS websites and encrypted services when on Public-Space WiFi. Increasingly, websites use end-to-end encryption and more operating systems allow for automatic VPN services, which encrypt all traffic to an exit point on the Internet, more or less solving this problem. Please use WiFi Assistant on an Android device and use a VPN service if you are able when using any open/public networks.

    We are currently updating our Privacy Policy, Terms & Conditions, and Wireless Agreement. Once completed, these documents will be available publicly and will outline in detail our data security commitments.

    Can someone use nearby Public-Space WiFi to access my In-Home WiFi?

    We have in place firewall rules that prevent anyone “on the mesh” from accessing private IP ranges. So if someone tries to access devices on your home network, they won’t be able to because our routers simply drop the requests when they realize they are destined for a forbidden IP address.

    Where is your open source software?

    You can view our code at www.github.com/metamesh

    Is WiFi dangerous to my health?

    No, not at the power levels specified by the 802.11 protocol. Read this for more information.

Research

View Our Research