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Dr. Paul M. Torrens, Center for Urban Science + Progress, New York University

Wi-Fi geographies

Project overview | Demonstrations | Eye candy | Related groups
Project overview

Wi-Fi marries Internet-based networking and radio broadcasting. While still nascent, the technology is wildly popular. Geography is a central consideration in the functioning of Wi-Fi technology. Yet, its influence is just beginning to be investigated. Examination of the space of Wi-Fi poses problems as wireless data traffic is invisible to the eye and its underlying apparatus is impromptu and veiled to traditional geographic inquiry.

As part of our research into Wi-Fi geographies, we have developed a scheme for detecting Wi-Fi infrastructure and transmissions and analyzing their geographic properties. This scheme has been successfully proven in application to the study of Wi-Fi geography in Salt Lake City, UT. A dense network of impromptu Wi-Fi infrastructure is found to permeate the city’s built environment and the urban area has been blanketed in a fog of Wi-Fi transmissions without any centralized organization. This Wi-Fi cloud is surprisingly robust to network and physical problems, although the early signs of geographically systematic throughput problems are evident in parts of the urban area. Wi-Fi appears to offer a solution to last-mile problems in the city and bucks the trend for polarization of the population on either side of a digital divide, at least for those with access to Wi-Fi-enabled hardware. Wi-Fi was found to strengthen existing urban geography. Activity is most prominent in the city’s traditional commercial core. However, Wi-Fi also reaches out to interstitial and peripheral parts of the city. While commercial penetration of Wi-Fi misses the traditional tourist and retail areas of the city, public Wi-Fi is being used to encapsulate and reinforce civic space in the city.
Wi-Fi geography/analysis (you will need the Adobe Flash Player plug-in for your browser to view this movie)
Eye candy
(Print-quality versions of these graphics are available upon request)

The cloud of Wi-Fi signal that envelops central Salt Lake City, UT, generated by ~1700 access points

Related groups

Senseable City Lab at MIT


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