Southampton Open Wireless Network

Southampton Open Wireless Network

The Southampton Open Wireless Network (SOWN) is a non-profit student led community wireless network based in Southampton, UK. Funded by the University of Southampton School of Electronics and Computer Science, SOWN aims to be a research and development group for wireless technology. It also continues to aspire towards the provision of community based wireless broadband internet coverage for the city of Southampton.


SOWN began as a project by the Southampton University Wireless Society in 2000 with the aim of providing pervasive wireless internet access to students on and around the University of Southampton. In October 2002 SOWN became a research project of the school of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. The university provided funding and gave permission for two Wireless Access Points to be placed on the university campus. A third was placed in the home of Mike Saywell so that the network could have access to the internet. The three nodes were linked using WDS. One of the nodes was placed on the student union building and the other at the northern end of the campus atop the ‘Zepler Building’. The node on the this building was linked to the ECS network via a VPN connection; allowing students and staff access to the high-speed university internet connection. Due to the terms of the University's ISP, non-academics are not permitted to make use of this connection.

In 2004 the network was expanded by adding a node on top of the 15 story ‘Faraday Building’ to the east of the campus. This node allowed line of site access to the main student areas of Southampton and a further three nodes in peoples homes were connected to the network. All the links in the network were wireless because the university would not allow unauthenticated traffic to pass over their network and at the time SOWN was an open network with no authentication. It was proposed that the network be secured using 802.1x authentication which would allow it to tie in with Eduroam and thus authenticate academics from around the world, however, this was never fully implemented.

In order to solve the problems of low speed attributed to 802.11b, SOWN proposed the use of 802.11a for high speed links between major nodes. By 2006 the node atop of Faraday was fitted with an 802.11a wireless card and aerial. Unfortunately, despite promising tests in the New Forest, 802.11a failed to transmit more than a couple of meters. This combined with several key members leaving Southampton caused SOWN to fall into decline. By the end of 2006 the only operational node was Faraday’s 802.11b access point.

In May 2007 ECS, wishing to provide pervasive wireless to the new students moving out of halls-of-residence into the local area, gave a sum of money to Dave Tarrant. He employed Paul Dart, an undergraduate, to work on SOWN during the summer of 2007. At this point the direction of SOWN changed, rather than providing wireless links across the city small wireless nodes would be given to students to connect to their home networks and share their internet will other students.

Current Status

Due to the repeated failures of high speed wireless links and costs incurred, most of SOWN's wireless nodes are now ‘SOWN [at] home’ nodes. The majority of these are loaned out to students of the university on a yearly basis. Despite this two nodes remain on campus connected via the university data network. It is planned for a third node to follow later in 2007. This has been delayed until such time that a sufficiently high building is available, and after all other problems with existing campus nodes have been worked out.

OWN [at] home nodes

Whilst any user can build/buy their own SOWN [at] home node, as of September 2007, the main emphasis has been on developing and loaning pre loaded nodes to students. The nodes, purchased from Meraki are identical to the Meraki Mini. Rather than running the default Meraki firmware the nodes are re-flashed with OpenWRT Kamikaze version 7.07.


The nodes connect to the internet through an individuals home internet connection. They also use OpenVPN to connect back to a central server and provide connectivity between nodes and to allow for the authentication of its users. The VPN connection also provides the node with an IPv6 address taken from the University of Southampton’s IPv6 allocation. The VPN also provides both IPv4 and IPv6 multicast connectivity. The SOWN [at] home nodes are loaned out to people on a yearly basis.

Current Development

SOWN is still very much active in its development of the service. Several projects are running within the SOWN Projects group, which are investigating various wireless technologies. Some of these projects are directly funded by the School of electronics and Computer Science.

Work is being continued on the possibility of 802.11a back-haul links. The current obstacle to this, according to the SOWN website, is the lack of signal strength, due to the limits imposed by the software (in accordance with US Federal regulations) [cite web|url=|title=SOWN Wiki: ZeplerNode|accessdate=2008-05-31] . SOWN, being a UK organisation, has a license to transmit on this band at a much higher power which, if realised, could solve the problem of back-links.

Other work being carried out by SOWN includes investigatory work on 802.1x, Wireless Location Tracking and Mobile IP. SOWN also has a VOIP server running Asterisk. It is used for testing transparant mobility, and for holding voice conferences. All members of SOWN can apply for an account, which can be used with any SIP client.

Users and Peering

Currently SOWN accepts any academic from the University of Southampton. This includes staff and students. When connecting to a node, they are confronted (once attempting to access a web page) with a login screen. They can login using their University of Southampton credentials. It is being investigated into the possibility of peering SOWN with other educational establishments using eduroam.

Any non-academic can also gain access to the network [cite web|url=|title=SOWN Signup Form|accessdate=2008-05-31] , they can apply for a "Community Account" which will allow them access to the SOWN network and internet on SOWN [at] home nodes, and access to the SOWN network (not internet) on campus nodes.

External links

* [ SOWN Website]


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