TS Wireless TS Wireless

Interview - mo:life

29 May 2005 by agarton | Comments (0)

Andrew Garton interviewed by mo:life.

mo:life: Last year, you were trying to initiate a project called Smith Street Wireless. Can you give a run down on this project? What were your objectives and where is it at today?

Smith Street Wireless grew out of a prototype wireless streaming network within a 3 kilometre radius of the Remy Lane/Queens Parade Precinct, Fitzroy North, Melbourne, Australia. It provided royalty free ambient music, 24 hours a day, for a period of six months.

The project identified interest in an alternative means of distributing local music, local content and convenient access to these resources. TS Wireless did not provide free, nor fee-for-service access to the internet. It was a stand-alone content specific service that would be syndicated across the emerging Melbourne Wireless network.

Early 2004 Toy Satellite proposed the establishment of Smith Street Wireless. It was to be a freely accessible, community owned network to be developed in consultation with residents, traders groups, cultural development organisations, artists and the Yarra City Council.

Its original objectives were to:

  • provide access to local and independent music;
  • access to scheduled documentary style, radiophonic works either commissioned or available from community radio station archives;
  • technical infrastructure for projects that make use of, for example, WiFi networking protocols and open source web server applications;
  • a communications medium for communities that collaborate with like initiatives in the area (eg. SmithStreet.org, community radio);
  • the provision of WiFi accessible hotspots for free access to the Internet from any location within a reasonable proximity of the network;
  • formulation of a WiFi content specific networking model that can be replicated within other communities;
  • ensure sustainability of the network, including maintenance, support and ongoing development.

Smith Street Wireless is currently on hold pending the outcome of a survey we are conducting within the precinct towards the development of the community weblog, SmithStreet.org. A second survey would determine the interest, extent of local participation and commitment towards the establishment of a wireless network for the precinct.

mo:life: You seem to have a commitment to provide accessible communications facilities on the local level. The cost of broadband connections have dropped dramatically. Won't it be easier for households to simply get an ADSL account? What are the benefits of providing communities or streets with wireless connectivity? And surely, everyone will soon have a super powerful mobile phone...

As our wireless projects are content specific, in that we provide access to a server with content that may not be available elsewhere, including scheduling tools and song lists the viability for such a service became redundant with access to cheaper broadband providers. However, the convenience factor of access to the internet from the precinct increasingly became the main objective. The few local business we had discussed the project with were largely interested in internet access. This would require a strong business model to ensure recoupment of both establishment and maintenance costs as access would be provided freely to anyone from café goers to shop keepers and residents.

Agreed, feature rich mobiles are becoming more available in this country, but I'm not sure everyone can afford to use the broad spectrum of services available (I certainy can't), particularly as individuals are less capable of creating content for these services unless MMS gateways are readily available and affordable to bridge these tools with websites.

As such, the project is on hold until it can be determined that such as service is desired and that a financial model to sustain it can be developed. Until such a time, our efforts are focused on the community weblog, SmithStreet.org.

In a broader context, wireless networks have currency where low cost networking is required. Perhaps less so in Australia, but countries like Africa, Bangladesh and Indonesia rely on widespread implementation of wireless services to gain access to the internet in areas of these countries where telcos have little to no reach.

mo:life: Can you describe some of the more creative projects you've been involved with that utilise wireless and mobile technologies?

TS Wireless, launched July 2002, was our first wireless project. It investigated the extent to which streaming media may be incorporated into wireless networking models as well as other cultural practises that support the efforts of local artists.

The project identified:

  • Wireless bandwidth limitations;
  • Regulatory issues;
  • Ability for users to program streams;
  • Possibilities for scheduled streams amongst other free2air hosts at international locations;
  • Interest in self-managed audio stream (social indicators);
  • Interest in external programming and commissioning of new works;
  • Copyright and royalty issues (e.g. APRA/AMCOS - do they encourage or discourage innovation in public access to new forms of music making such as generative compositions);
  • Use as tool within cultural context (i.e. complimenting exhibitions and other related events);
  • Requirements for the addition of video;
  • Possible collaborative framework with wireless activities supporting remote (e.g. rural, island) communities networking (e.g. Bangladesh, Canary Islands, Philippines).

The project assisted in the early formulation of wireless projects with the Association for Progressive Communications which have seen a series of training workshops conducted in Africa. In addition, these projects are seeing the development of training and support materials that will be available under an appropriate Creative Commons licence from http://www.itrainonline.org.

Since December 2000 we have been focused on the use of locative devices such as GPS receivers in the creation of works such as Memory Effect (a generative composition for 10 PCs), D3, a public authoring kiosk produced for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and one of our current projects, Synesthesia Urbania.

Synesthesia Urbania is a collaborative audio/visual public performance integrating mobile and locative devices, a multilingual multimedia online workspace (moblog), collective copyright licensing and a custom 3D performance engine. Participants from Myung-Dong (Seoul, Korea) and Smith Street (Melbourne, Australia) will provide audio and video clips, text and GPS data that will be utilised in the creation of visual components and an electroacoustic soundscape that will be performed with Australian and Korean artists at Art Center Nabi, November 2005.

mo:life: You travel and work in many parts of the world. Can you give a summary of some interesting wireless and mobile projects in parts of Asia?

Here's a small sampler of projects active in the region... There are many more emergent projects and well established ones in the Pacific, but perhaps best left for another article.

The first wireless network we witnessed in action was at Sookmyung University, Seoul, 1999. Students were sitting at the pond on the grounds of the University with laptops and their lunch. Three years later most of these laptops were replaced with mobile phones. Although wireless and mobile telephony is pretty much common-place in Korea, few artists have made use of them in their own practice. However, Art Center Nabi is engaged in several projects to stimulate awareness of these tools within cultural practice. They are initiating a number of forums and symposia on mobile and locative devices to stimulate interest in these tools within new media arts practice in South Korea.

In Indonesia Dr Onno Purbo provides workshops teaching young people how to set up and administer wireless services for their communities.

“Purbo has gone over the heads of the government direct to the Indonesian people, whom he is empowering with low-cost, build-it-yourself neighbourhood networks that bypass the telcos and deliver Internet and telephone services at a fraction of the cost of doing so conventionally.”

Onno has authored over 40 books which can be downloaded from his website free of charge. He was the first person to write about computers and the internet in Indonesian. Those that have followed have been his students. “He travels around schools and universities, showing students how, with a little study and effort, they can get 24-hour Internet access at a cost of 50 US cents a month! He shows anyone who cares to inquire how they can “borrow” the telco’s telephone number to make free calls over the internet with VoIP).”

In rural Sylhet, Bangladesh, small businesses have assisted in the establishment of a freely accessible wireless network for secondary schools. The more significant project is an UNDP funded initiative in association with the Bangladesh Agriculture University in Mymensingh. The network will initially provide wireless connectivity to universities throughout Bangladesh, it will provide low-cost net connections to hospitals, schools and non-profit groups in rural areas where internet access is either extremely difficult or non-existent.

mo:life: Do you think mobile and wireless technologies will be able to escape the grips of a highly commercially motivated industry? With the WWW, anyone can set up a website - but it's a bit more difficult to create content for mobile platforms. Do you see bandwidth prices dropping, or will the telcos become the gatekeepers and 'toll operators' for mobile content?

More and more practical applications for mobile devices are being developed by artists and cultural development organisations. How they translate to the Australian landscape remains to be seen, but in countries where mobile phone charges are far cheaper, integration between telcos and civil society initiatives have far greater chance of survival let alone consumer interest in these products. Organisations such as the UK based Proboscis are integrating social needs with local government support by way of community based authoring applications available to wireless devices and mobile telephony. Toy Satellite has attempted to find support for such initiatives in Australia, but it seems early days yet.

With regards to content for mobile platforms I feel we will see many more open source applications available to developers, but we are reliant on support from telecommunication providers to either subsidise or reduce charges to make it more and more possible to provide a richer and more diverse range of content for consumers. Hence the ongoing support for wireless that provides for services that do not require access to “the grid” whilst it is costly, particularly for projects that have no cost recovery aspect to them.

mo:life: Where do you see wireless and mobile technologies heading. Can you give us your version of the mobile/wireless future for the next 2 to 5 years?

I'll keep this very brief.

There is likely to be far greater convergence of these technologies for social service needs. This can be demonstrated by the work of groups such as Proboscis and the Association for Progressive Communications. Largely determined by services that encourage the public to engage with content gathering in areas such as local knowledge, particularly that which assists the more marginalised in our communities.

There is a broader discussion on embedded networkable devices and meshcubes for instance.