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North Carolina State Rolls Out Experimental Open Source WiFi Network

North Carolina State University's (NCSU) Centennial Campus has implemented one of the country's first large-scale, outdoor, experimental wireless networks using open source software. The project is called CentMesh, which stands for Centennial Outdoor Wireless Mesh Network Testbed for Research and Education. It will begin operating this month.

The mesh network is made up of 14 wireless access points located strategically throughout the campus to blanket the main area. It is a highly programmable, extensible, open test bed built to support research and education on the design of wireless mesh networks, IT systems, and applications.

Researchers at NCSU have already planned numerous experiments that CentMesh has made possible. One experiment will use CentMesh to identify methods of improving battery-operated emergency communications devices. Another will place air quality sensors throughout the network to develop applications that monitor and identify environmental factors that cause problems for people with certain medical conditions.

"Because it's all open source, researchers can trash it, write their own, or make changes," said Rudra Dutta, an NCSU computer science professor and one of the researchers leading the CentMesh project.

The project was developed in three phases. The initial design phase was completed in the summer of 2009. The second phase involved the creation of mobile mesh nodes on push-carts, which were used for testing purposes in phase 2, but will also be used in the completed network when mobile nodes are required. The final phase of the project was completed in late 2011 and involved the installation of semi-permanent pole-top nodes throughout the campus. The project was funded by a grant from the United States Army Research Office.

North Caroline State University's Centennial Campus is a 1,314-acre research park and educational campus located just south of the university's main campus in Raleigh. The campus is home to the colleges of Engineering, Textiles, Veterinary Medicine, and Education, as well as the Graduate School. More than 60 companies, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations also have offices on the campus.

Additional details about the open source WiFi program can be found on the CentMesh site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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