Frequently Asked Questions
1. Who owns and funds this network?
Nobody and Everybody. This is a community effort, and members mostly pay for
their equipment from their own pockets. We sometimes receive donations in the
form of equipment, time or space (to put up a backbone node), but the only
reason why this can be called a "network" is because a lot of like-minded
individuals have pooled small bits of infrastructure together to form a
coherent whole. The "whole" network functions on a scale that no individual
could have accomplished alone, not without expending vast amounts of resources
2. So where's the catch? Who's making the money?
There is no catch. This network is not about money. (It's non-profit anyway.)
Everybody contributes. Everybody gains. The sum of the whole, all the small
bits put together, makes the individual gain more than the individual
contribution. The PC shops selling the WiFi equipment can't
be doing too badly, though.
3. Can I join your network and SELL xyz-service to your users?
Absolutely not. It's illegal. Period. (And we will catch you if you try it.)
4. What is the Coreteam?
The coreteam is responsible for the technical and operational aspects of PCN.
They coordinate the interlinking of nodes owned by members of the community,
and are responsible for most of the behind-the-scenes technical necessities
that make the network run. The coreteam would typically provide expertise to
owners of backbone nodes, or larger transit nodes. They all have real jobs, and
are really appreciative of the friendly and helpful members of the community
providing basic technical support to each other.
1. Why can't I see the network?
Probably because the signal strength in your area is too weak for the WiFi
device you are using. There are two ways to solve this problem: One way is to
bring (expand) the network into your area by becoming a backbone node, and the
other is to try better or more sensitive equipment or a better antenna. Buying
a radio with greater transmit power output won't help you.
2. Why do we (still) have no coverage in xyz-part of town?
Because nobody in your part of town has had the time/resources/will to establish
a backbone or transit node to extend the network to you. Why don't you do it?
3. How can we extend the network to our part of town?
Glad you asked. DO NOT start by spending any money on equipment. You start by
establishing whether you have direct line of sight to any existing backbone or
transit nodes. By "DIRECT LINE OF SIGHT" we mean exactly that - you must clearly
see the other side, completely unobstructed by any obstacle, especially trees.
This will determine where your node will go. Your node will need
a strong structure to be bolted onto, especially if you use proper grid or dish
antennas. It will also (obviously) need power. Because you are going to distribute
the network to a number of downstream users, your node needs to be more-or-less
a permanent fixture - 3 years down the line, you will normally have accumulated
enough users that will be suitably annoyed if you decide to pack up your node and
leave. If your node ends up on somebody elses' premises, it is just about mandatory
to get their approval in writing for sticking it up there in the first place.
Once you have the position sorted out, you can start contacting the owners of
the other nodes to which you have DIRECT LINE OF SIGHT. You will want to
utterly convince them that you need a dedicated uplink from their nodes
to yours, and you should offer to supply the equipment that will be needed on
their side to establish such a link. (Or prepare to be utterly disappointed.)
The forum is usually a good place for such matters. Because the demand for PCN
connectivity vastly outsrips the supply in terms of highsite space and bandwidth,
you may need to put some effort into this. Node owners are known to respond a lot better
to requests for links to Backbone Nodes than to requests to link to Transit Nodes.
Hint: If you have the means, establishing a backbone node is far more preferable than
a transit node. Once you have the placement and the uplink(s) sorted, you
should appoint a responsible person that will take care of your node. The next
step is to involve the coreteam to validate the technical feasibility of your
node and provide advice on the equipment and software you will need to procure.
Use the forum. Only then should you start thinking of parting with any cash.
Once you have your node installed and functional (i.e. all links
up and running), you can contact the coreteam again for configuration, the
assignment of IP address space, DNS and DHCP configuration and other technical
paraphernalia. Congratulations, you have just set up a node in your part of town.
4. I can see a node named PCN-SOUTH/NORTH/EAST-1 but I can't connect to it
You are seeing a backbone link which is dedicated to carry backbone traffic
between two backbone nodes. It is a point-to-point link which is not designed
to carry end-node traffic. Look for nodes with names starting with www.pcn.za.net
1. Will XYZ-brand equipment work?
Probably, if it supports the 802.11b or g standards. We have tested as client nodes:
D-Link DWL-G810 (Gaming Adaptor)
D-Link DWL-2100AP (Access Point)
D-Link DWL-650AG (Notebook Cardbus Adaptor)
Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG (Notebook Mini-PCI Adaptor)
Linksys WRT54G / GL / GS (Access Point)
Mikrotik Routerboards with just about any of the legal Atheros-based radio cards
2. What is a Backbone Node?
A backbone node has dedicated links to at least two other backbone nodes. Put
differently: A backbone node needs at least two radios and antennas which are
dedicated to carry only inter-node backbone traffic. Only then can you add a
third interface to which members (or other transit nodes) can connect. Backbone
nodes also participate in the routing domain by runnig a dynamic routing protocol
such as OSPF. They are therefore relatively expensive to set up, but their owners
have been known to snigger profoundly when asked about their link speeds.
3. What is a Transit Node?
A transit node has at least one dedicated uplink, which carries traffic
to and from at least two downstream links. A transit node supplies an upstream
connection to itself, and at least one other node.