We strive to be transparent by the public, regardless of their base knowledge of WiFi or networking, can understand our mission. That’s why we created this glossary of terms, FAQ section, and list of technical resources.
Please contact us if you have any questions or recommendations for improving the accessibility of our resources.
Given that our most recent report on the scope of the Digital Divide was conducted in 2018, we know that these metrics do NOT reflect the growing number of individuals who need Internet access because of hardships caused by COVID-19. Due to reduced hours, layoffs, and 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, but the bandwidth of discount packages often does not support 2020’s new work and learn-from-home lifestyles.
While a more recent survey of residents without Internet access has yet to be done, 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 because they demonstrated need, and they are areas where Heinz already focuses its efforts.
We completed more than 900 surveys and several in-depth interviews, all of which were conducted door-to-door by Meta Mesh employees over three months. We had two general objectives:
- Research: to gather our own survey data regarding Internet use and more specifically, broadband exclusion.
- Operational: to plan logistics, including the placement and location of access points, to provide a minimum viable WiFi network suitable for public use.
Our cursory conclusions include:
- A majority of residents in low-income neighborhoods rely on smartphones to access the Internet. This method of accessing the Internet does not qualify as having home broadband, creates severe limitations to what can be accomplished, and greatly increases the time it takes to accomplish tasks.
- Broadband Internet access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion. Whether or not families have in-home broadband Internet access, they still suffer from skill gaps and a lack of educational resources.
- The advertised price is only one part of the total cost of Internet access. On top of the monthly service cost there can be equipment rentals, installation charges, taxes, and other hidden fees. Also, the coverage areas and connection speeds that ISPs advertise are often inaccurate. Some residents are not able to get service, or get the full level of service they are paying for.
- Public organizations that offer free public WiFi such as libraries, community centers, and parks, often fill the gap between low in-home access rates and high community demand. Libraries and community centers also provide a number of other critical services, such as training and support. These organizations are under increasing pressure to meet community connectivity needs, while their public funding levels are at an all-time low. This is why the efforts of Meta Mesh are so important: more than ever, people require in-home Internet access.
The full report titled Home Internet Access and A Sustainable Approach to Public WiFi in Three Underserved Pittsburgh Communities is available for your consideration.
We created this glossary to ensure that anyone, regardless of their previous knowledge, can understand our mission. Terms are defined and put into the context of Meta Mesh’s operations. This list is by no means exhaustive — we will continue to update this resource to make our “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)
- An access point is a piece of networking equipment that creates a WiFi network, allowing nearby devices to connect to the Internet. In a typical home network, access points are combined with a router or modem.
- Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data that can be transferred through a network connection within a certain time period. The higher your bandwidth, the more data can be transferred simultaneously. Internet speeds are usually advertised in Mbps, which stands for Megabits per second.
- Broadband is used to describe high-speed Internet connections over 25 Mbps. In 2020, most home Internet connections are considered broadband. An older alternative to broadband would be dial-up connections, which are slower. Meta Mesh provides wireless broadband connections.
- Community Wireless Network
- The Meta Mesh Network is a Community Wireless Network. Our network is meant to serve the local community, and it operates using radio waves rather than landline cables. The community we serve is the City of Pittsburgh and surrounding areas in Allegheny County.
- Customer-Premises Equipment (CPE)
- CPE is the networking equipment that is placed inside and outside of residents’ homes.
- Digital Divide
- The Digital Divide is a concept used to describe the gap in telecommunications access between different populations. 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.
- Encryption is the process of encoding and decoding information. When data is encrypted, only the sender and receiver can understand it. Encryption is used on the Internet to protect your personal information. When encryption is not used, information can be sent in plain text, allowing for eavesdropping, man-in-the-middle attacks, and other security and privacy issues.
- End-to-End Encryption
- End-to-End Encryption refers to a system that uses encryption for the entire path of communications. End-to-end encryption is important for preventing bad actors from being able to see what you are doing online.
- Grounding Cable
- Grounding cables are used to prevent equipment from damage due to spikes in electricity, or lightning strikes.
- 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 or fiber optic cables.
- Line of Sight
- We use the term “line of sight” to describe an open path between towers or radios. If you can directly see one tower from another, that means there are no physical obstructions between the two sites. Our radios work best when they have direct line of sight to another radio.
- High Foliage
- High foliage refers to areas that have physical obstructions that can interrupt the connection between towers and routers. These obstructions may include treetops, buildings, or other intruding objects.
- HTTP is the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, which allows for the creation of websites and the Internet. The biggest downside of HTTP is that it doesn’t mandate encryption. For any website which deals with personal information, the more secure HTTPS should be used.
- HTTPS is the Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure protocol, which does the same thing as HTTP, but in a more secure way. HTTPS mandates encryption, and should be used on any website which deals with personal information. When you navigate to an HTTPS page, the data that is sent and received is encrypted, which helps keep your data safe. Usually your web browser will show a lock icon when you are on an HTTPS page.
- Indoor Networking
- Indoor Networking refers to any network equipment that is placed indoors, such as routers, switches, or wireless access points. In the Cathedral of Learning, Meta Mesh is using this equipment to connect the PennREN network to the radios and antennas on the Cathedral of Learning’s roof.
- IP stands for Internet Protocol, and it is used to allow computers to communicate over a network. IP defines the methods that computers and networking equipment use to deliver data from one host to another. The most common versions of IP in use today are IPv4 and IPv6.
- IP Address
- An IP Address is a number which is used to identify a computer on a network. Every device on a network must have an IP address to communicate. An example of an IP address would be 192.168.0.1, which is used as the default IP address for a lot of home networking equipment.
- ISP stands for Internet Service Provider.
- KINBER (Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research) provides network-based connectivity and services across Pennsylvania. They provide Meta Mesh with it’s Internet connection at the Cathedral of Learning, and we distribute that access locally in Pittsburgh.
- LTU Equipment
- LTU Equipment is a line of Ubiquiti networking devices that Meta Mesh uses to send an wireless Internet signal over long distances.
- A Mast is a pole used for mounting networking equipment. In the Cathedral of Learning Supernode design, antennas are secured to a mast that allows Meta Mesh to adjust the height and direction of the antennas.
- Mbps stands for Megabits per second, and is the most common way to measure the speed of an Internet connection. The higher the number, the higher the speed.
- Mesh Networking
- Mesh Networking generally refers to a style of network where devices connect to each other, rather than all connecting to a central hub. At Meta Mesh, we use mesh networking together with wired networks and wireless point-to-point links to enable communication for all of our users.
- A node is a single device on a network. For us, a typical node would be a home or business with equipment to receive a Meta Mesh wireless signal.
- Open-Source Software
- Open-Source Software is software which has publicly available source code. Open-source software is developed freely by a community of developers, and is usually free to use. Meta Mesh uses several pieces of open-source software to accomplish it’s goals.
- PoE stands for Power over Ethernet. PoE is used to supply power to devices like security cameras and wireless access points through a normal Ethernet cable. Using PoE prevents the need for dedicated power adapters and additional cables.
- PennREN Fiber
- PennREN is the name of KINBER’s file optic network spanning across Pennsylvania. Meta Mesh connects to PennREN inside the Cathedral of Learning. Meta Mesh then distributes that connection to other areas of Pittsburgh.
- PittMesh was the original name of The Meta Mesh Wireless Network.
- PtP stands for Point-to-Point, and can be thought of as a “one-to-one” connection. Point-to-point connections have only one device on either side. Meta Mesh uses wireless PtP links to connect major parts of our network, usually to link one super node to another.
- PMtP stands for Point-to-Multi-Point, and can be thought of as a “one-to-many” connection. PMtP radios are a single radio which can connect to multiple radios. Meta Mesh is using PtMP radios on the roof of the Cathedral of Learning, allowing for multiple devices to connect to a single transmitter.
- Public-Space WiFi
- Public-Space WiFi refers to a wireless network that is available for anyone to join in a public area. Meta Mesh operates multiple public WiFi networks.
- Radio Tower
- A Radio Tower is a tall structure which is used to mount radios and antennas. Transmitting from a high place allows for better line of sight, and better connections to end devices.
- A router is a piece of networking equipment that sends data packets from one network to another. For home use, most consumer-grade routers are combined with an Access Point (AP), which creates a WiFi network.
- A modem is a device which is used to connect to your ISP’s network. If you have home Internet service from a cable or phone company, they will typically give you a modem to use, or allow you to rent one. Commonly, a modem is integrated into the router/access point, allowing you to have one device that performs all functions.
- SEEN is Carnegie Mellon University’s Sustaining Equity in Education Network. In 2020, SEEN partnered with Meta Mesh to develop specific projects in under resourced Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
- Sector Antennas
- Sector Antennas are specialized antennas which concentrate a radio signal into a specific area. In the Cathedral of Learning super node, we are using multiple radios and sector antennas to provide an even spread of coverage in all directions.
- Super Node
- We use super node to refer to the large sites within our networks. The Cathedral of Learning radios and antennas is considered a super node.
- A switch is a piece of networking equipment which allows for multiple wired connections, typically Ethernet. Adding a switch to a network is the main way of expanding the number of wired connections it can handle.
- UBNT is an acronym for the company Ubiquiti Networks, which is where Meta Mesh sources most of the hardware needed to support the network (antennas, access points, switches, routers, etc.)
- UPS stands for Uninterruptible Power Supply, which is a device that is used to power equipment and contains a battery. The internal battery keeps equipment powered on during a power outage.
- A VPN is a virtual private network, and is typically used to securely connect to another network. A lot of people working from home use a VPN to connect to their work network. A VPN can also be used to secure your traffic on an untrusted network.
- WiFi Hotspot
- WiFi hotspot is a general term, but we use it to refer to our WiFi Wagon Kits. Our WiFi Hotspots use cellular data to create a WiFi network. These kits are mobile, and can be driven to wherever they are needed.
- WISP stands for Wireless Internet Service Provider.
- WPA2 is the most commonly used methods for protecting access to a WiFi network. WPA2-personal is what most people use in their homes, and allows for all devices to join with a single password, or Pre-Shared Key (PSK).
- 802.11 refers to the wireless standards that we know as WiFi, such as 802.11n or 802.11ac. A few years ago, the WiFi Alliance renamed the major wireless standards into the more friendly WiFi 4, WiFi 5, and WiFi 6. WiFi 6 is the latest version of the 802.11 standard.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a 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. We are working on a new interactive map which will cover our Every1online project.
Does Meta Mesh use new networking technologies (like 5G or TV White Space)?
Bleeding-edge technology is not our priority. Our solution is a low-cost and scalable way to distribute Internet access, and build a standalone network at moderate speeds. 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.
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:
- Grant funding
- Individual donations
- Income from contracted work.
So, the work we do is not “free,” we just use sources other than individual residents or households for revenue. We will not shut off services to households unless they request it, and we assist communities in finding sustainable ways to cover any incurred costs.
Is The Meta Mesh Network secure?
MMWC uses the same security measures other big name ISPs use. While no WiFi network security is without vulnerabilities, it is extremely unlikely for a breach to occur. For more on the technological capabilities/limitations, 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.
What about 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. In order to secure access to your In-Home WiFi network, please be cautious about who you provide this information to.
What about Public-Space WiFi?
Like other public WiFi networks, our Public-Space WiFi is an open network with no password required to join it. An open network is advantageous for public areas, since they are the best way to allow access to anyone who needs it. Our goal is expanding access, and open networks are the best way to accomplish that.
Open WiFi networks also have some downsides. With a password protected WiFi network, all communication is encrypted by the network itself, giving you an extra layer of security. With an open network, you don’t get that extra layer. This means that unencrypted information can potentially be seen by someone else on the local network.
We do what we can to counteract this, by isolating all clients on our public networks. Increasingly, websites use end-to-end encryption, reducing the risk of using an open network. Also, more operating systems allow for automatic VPN services which encrypt all traffic, more or less solving this problem. We recommend you only use HTTPS websites and other encrypted services when on Public-Space WiFi.
Can someone use Public-Space WiFi to access my In-Home WiFi?
Even if someone were to try to access your home network, they wouldn’t be able to. We have security measures in place that prevent anyone on our public WiFi networks from accessing other Meta Mesh networks.
Where is your open source software?
You can view our code on Github.
Is WiFi dangerous to my health?
No, not at the power levels specified by the 802.11 protocol. Read this for more information.