The WISP-in-a-box project

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What is it? The 30 second summary

The WISP in a box project will

  • take the best known ingredients from the open source / free software world
  • bundle them and make them easy to use
  • put them on low cost, low power hardware (which will be solar powered)

to create a

  • easy-to use-and-run wireless ISP box

and make this product available to

  • entrepreneurs, activists, movers of all kinds

in order to help bringing

  • connectivity to underserviced, underprivileged and overcharged communities in Africa.

Click here to see all documents related to the project

Contacts & how to get involved?

The WISP in a box project is hosted and coordinated at

The Meraka Institute, CSIR, South Africa.

Project coordination: Sebastian Büttrich,, mail:

Click here to see all documents related to the project

The WISP in a box project is completely open in that

  • We are highly interested in working with everybody with an interest in the project - just talk to us!
  • All project communications and results will be fully open.
  • Contributions to the project will be respected, attributed and credited for.
  • We are aiming at actively making our resources available to the community as best we can.

All parts of this and other project documents are open for editing and commenting.

Best starting points might be ...

  • the list of existing and related projects - we are interested in your input, * We are open to any dialogue about cooperation.experiences, additions.
  • the specifications
  • use cases and business cases

Background and Goals

The Wireless ISP in a box (short: WISPiab, final name pending) project has been suggested and discussed over a period of time, a.o. it has been suggested at the London meeting, December 2006.

Time for action

Without discussing the connectivity situation in Africa in great depth, there is no doubt that 2008 is the year that new business and non-business connectivity initiatives need to be put into action, gain in speed and be scaled up.

The WISPiab project wants enable the implementation speed needed, by

  • lowering the technology skils barrier
  • offering a technology match to emerging business models
  • creating an open platform for others to build on

Pragmatically speaking,

we seek to address a dilemma that many wireless practicioners, activists and entrepreneurs are facing constantly:

When asked if all technology ingredients needed for starting a wireless project also is freely available, we answer 'yes'.
However, when asked ''how'' to get started, we have to admit that 

* it is not quite so easy (yet),
* it will take a bit of fumbling and skills,
* while 80% of all needed parts are there, 20% and the finished bundle are still missing

and so forth.

Thus, successful startups - and we have seen a few of those - still largely depend on the "one skilled enthusiast" approach.
While this approach produces admirable case stories,
it is not a path the vast majority of people can take. 

Openness and reusability

We are in the lucky situation that many people have invested tremendous work over the last few years.

The project does not intend to reinvent any wheels, but to identify the best ingredients and components, bring them together and make them more manageable.

It is time to get up to speed and scale.

We intend to work with everybody who is willing to share, and willing to benefit from what Meraka can bring to the table:

  • capacity for the improvement of existing solutions
  • capacity for testing and rollout
  • capacity for documenting

All discussions, documents and results of the WISPiab project will be open throughout.

Software developed as aprt of this project will be licensed under a GPL license. Harware specifications will be open, and all documentation and educational materials will be published under an open license, e.g Creative Commons Licenses, GNU Free Documentation License, or such.

Wireless vs. Wired?

Wireless technology is not seen as competing with wires (fiber) connectivity. On the contrary, we feel that

wireless first meters will be essential in turning wired miles into successes.

Suppliers of wired connectivity need to be able to work with markets of well connected users and customers, businesses as well as non-profit, which currently can only be created through the use of wireless technologies.

Thus, wireless technology is seen as an enabler of wired connectivity.

Data or Voice? Infrastructure or Application?

Two questions need a short comment:

  1. Is Data or Voice the most urgent field to address?
  2. Should the focus be on Infrastructure or Applications?

need a short comment.

As far as the WISPiab is concerned, none of these questions is of explicit relevance. The WISPiab needs to support and match any business case that is identified as valid.

Technology follows need, and the need is identified by careful study of emerging business models.

Most business models will need

  • infrastructure to transport applications,


  • applications to make infrastructure attractive.

Pillars of the project

As indicated by the name, the project focusses on wireless technology, however the project is based on a wider set of pillars.

  1. Free Software / Open Source
  2. License exempt wireless (802.11_)
  3. Local ownership
  4. Solar power (and thus low power)
  5. Low cost

These pillars indicate that

  1. Proprietary and closed source elements will not be allowed into the product. Where they are inevitable (e.g. drivers), they have to be clearly marked as such.
  2. Licensed frequencies and proprietary implentations with license exemt spectrum will not be allowed into the product. Backhaul connectivity, being outside of the product scope, is not touched by this.
  3. Centralized and non-lcoal business and technology models, e.g. models that require a sign up to a central corporate server (see for example the Meraki model), will not be considered.
  4. Any hardware solution will only be deemed complete if delivered bundled with a non-grid power supply. The default version of any WISPian project will be solar powered. Users with stable grid electricity have the freedom to deselect this option.
  5. Hardware and Software cost must be kept to an absolute minimum.

Business models

The WISPiab project takes its point of departure in feasible business models, not in technology.

Business models here will include for-profit as well as not-for-profit and completely free models, e.g. open networks.

Among the models and names recently discussed are

  • VT: Village Telco
  • VOT: Village Own/Operated Telco
  • VOOT: Village Own and Operated Telco
  • CON: Community owned network
  • COF: Community owned Fibre

See e.g. the list Wireless Africa for a recent discussion thread.

From its first phase on, the project seeks to

  • collect user and business needs and feedback
  • adjust technology to business and user needs

The WISPiab product


The WISPiab project aims at creating a bundled product, seen as consisting of

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Documentation

with the related out-of-scope side aspects of

  • Education, Skills and Support
  • Backhaul/Uplink connectivity


For the time being, all Software and Docs will be in

  • English

Localization and translation will be welcome, but the project team will currently not dedicate its own resources to this.

Requirements / Specification

Please see: WISPiab specifications

Existing/related projects & products

NOTE BEFORE YOU READ: At this point we have not broken down the list into sublists for Hardware / Software / Projects - etc! Most items in the list incorporate aspects of all of these, so we keep them in one list. When this becomes to chaotic, we will divide it.

This list includes a.o.

  • projects / approaches, commercial as well as non-commercial
  • software, software platforms
  • (almost) pure hardware vendors, integrated hardware/software, etc

We have now removed into archive - WISPiab ingredients - research archive - all the items that have been identified as NOT relevant. In case you feel something is missing here, please check that archive first.

Please find a template at the top of the list, in case you would like to add to the list! You are very welcome to!

Template for new entries

  • Type: (e.g. Community project, Company, Hardware vendor, Software Vendor, ISP, Telco, ...)
  • Description:
  • URL: URL
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance:

aerospace software


  • Type: Hardware + Software platform
  • Description: "full featured telecom platform and softswitch providing converged services, with self contained billing (pre or post-paid), reporting and statistics for IP and TDM based voice networks"
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: YES - see a.o. connections to Dabba and Trixbox


  • Type: SW
  • Description: Chilispot captive portal, standard in FLOSS captive portal world - "ChilliSpot is an open source captive portal or wireless LAN access point controller. It is used for authenticating users of a wireless LAN. It supports web based login, which is today's standard for public HotSpots, WISP "smart-client" authentication, and it supports Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2). Authentication, authorization and accounting (AAA protocol) is handled via RADIUS (on board or remote).

Development on the original project continues, but slowly for some. The Coova-Chilli is an active project and has since added many new features and is an integral part of the CoovaAP firmware.

As of mid 2007, ChilliSpot appears to be dead. The developer Jens Jacobsen has vanished, and the domain has lapsed. Fortunately CoovaChilli has forked from ChilliSpot 1.0 and development continues with an active user-base." See Coova instead.



  • Type: Software: Firmware for WRT54G etc
  • Description: "Hotspot setup and management software .... includes firmware, authentication and management services, and captive portal solutions.... . .. Builds on OpenWrt, ChilliSpot, WifiDog, OpenVPN ...web interfaces for wifidog.conf and other conf files"
  • URL: URL
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: YES relevant! test and evaluate


  • Type: Software, community project
  • Description: "The CUWiN Foundation develops decentralized, community-owned networks that foster democratic cultures and local content. Through advocacy and through our commitment to open source technology, we support organic networks that grow to meet the needs of their community."
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: yes- explore overlaps and cooperation

Dabba / Orange Farm

  • Type: Village telco and ISP (e.g. Community project, Company, Hardware vendor, Software Vendor, ISP, Telco, ...)
  • Description: SW based off openWRT, OpenSER, coova,
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: yes! uses and brings together best-of-breed usual suspects. working business model. cooperation.


  • Type: Software
  • Description: "daloRADIUS is an advanced RADIUS web management application aimed at managing hotspots and general-purpose ISP deployments. It features user management, graphical reporting, accounting, a billing engine and integrates with GoogleMaps for geo-locating."
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: evaluate!


  • Type: Community project
  • Description: an impressive example of an organically grown bootstrapped

network project. Ian Howard interview: "a true social entrepreneur at work."

  • URL: URL
  • Contacts: Josepg Sekiku
  • Relevance: high. interview and study business model.

Fantsuam Foundation

  • Type: Community project, network
  • Description: Fantsuam has implemented a communtiy network, including interesting experiences with voucher based billing
  • URL:
  • Contacts: Alberto and Ochuoko through Sebastian
  • Relevance: yes. Analyse experience with Billing implementation

  • Type: Communtiy owned fiber network
  • Description: Though outside region (Denmark), an interesting case story of successful CON (fiber).
  • URL:
  • Contacts: through Sebastian
  • Relevance: low in this phase, but interesting re: community owned fiber. to learn from. interview!


  • Type: Community project, Software
  • Description: Freifunk is arguably the most succesful mesh movement and source of one of the best GUI integrated firmwares for the Linksys WRT54G and other boxes
  • URL:
  • Contacts: see URL
  • Relevance: high


  • Type: Community project, Hardware
  • Description: "Green WiFi has developed a low cost, solar-powered, standardized WiFi access solution that runs out-of-the-box with no systems integration or power requirements. All that is required is a single source of broadband access. "
  • URL:
  • Contacts: see URL
  • Relevance: high - hardware experience, sw aspects (?), rollout coop?


  • Type: Hardware/Software solutions, Implementer
  • Description: "The Inveneo WiFi Outdoor Access Point is a rugged wireless router that can be used in multiple network configurations, for long-distance point-to-point links or to connect multiple locations. The WiFi Access Point requires very little network and device setup, as the integrated software has an internal webserver with easy-to-use interface accessible from any standard web browser. - The Computing Station is an ultra-low-power, affordable and fully functional desktop computer designed for use in rural locations such as schools, clinics, field offices, community centers and Internet cafes. - The Inveneo Hub Server|| "
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: high. Low power focus extremely relevant.


  • Type: Software
  • Description: "ISPBill is an ISP billing and management system. It features automatic generation and emailing of invoices, receipts and statements, a customer interface, a ticket system, and much more. ISPBill is intended to continue where cwispy left off"
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: yes - test it


  • Type: Software
  • Description: "ISPConfig is an open source hosting control panel for Linux. ISPConfig is licensed under BSD license."
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance:'yes - check against webmin

it46 - VoIP for Development project - Free Telephony Project

  • Type: Software
  • Description: "free hardware designs for telephone systems. Both the hardware and software are open ... free to copy, modify and re-use the hardware designs. The hardware for a complete embedded Asterisk IP PBX (including multiple analog ports or a T1/E1) can be built for a few hundred dollars. ... first product is the IP04. The IP04 is a low cost phone system that can switch phone calls from analog phones or phone lines over the Internet using VoIP. The IP04 is a professionally designed product that is in volume production today"
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance:yes


  • Type: Software, SW/HW bundles
  • Description: "This Austin Texas based group, part of the Free WiFi Movement, offers the Hotspot Server open source software that you can use to create your own free hotspot. When you run their software installation it creates a Linux system with the appropriate settings. Lessnetworks provides downloads of the software, sells their software on disk for a nominal cost, and even sells some preconfigured wireless servers on eBay that you can purchase as a package."
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: yes. check out!
  • Potential problems: they seem to have changed business models, now charge & centralized on their servers.



  • Type: Village Telco of sorts
  • Description: Though outside region (Denmark), an interesting case story of successful (but also problematic?) Asterisk based Telco startup -
  • URL:
  • Contacts: through Sebastian
  • Relevance: to learn from. interview! Sebastian



  • Type: Software Project
  • Description: "OrangeMesh is a simple, open source network management dashboard for ROBIN based networks. OrangeMesh is jointly developed by Orange Networking, Open-Mesh, Inc, and students at UNC Chapel Hill.


Seamless Integration with Open-Mesh: You can use Orangemesh together with your existing control at Soon, you'll be able to migrate all your network settings and infromation from Open-Mesh to an Orangemesh server with just a click of a button.

Completely Open Source: Change anything you want. Help build the final piece necessary for a completely open-source and affordable mesh network.

Customizable checkin script: Have access to every configuration option available in ROBIN. Make those pesky custom /config changes outlast the next firmware update.

Advanced Community Features: Grow an organic mesh network. Empower non-administrators and give your users a stake in the network and simplify the deployment of large community networks.

Much more: Improved Google Maps status view, custom CSS skins, user management, captive portal support, and more!"


  • Type: Software Project
  • Description: "Osmius allow us to monitor and supervise anything connected to our network. These elements could be attached to:

-Server Network : Linux, Windows, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, VxWorks, OpenVMS, ...

-Services : Databases, Web Services, App. Services, SAP, ...

-Sensors : Pressure, Temperature, Industrial,SCADA,Solar Pannels, ...

-Domotic Networks : Fire detectors, surveillance elements and access control, ...

-Other types : To develop a new Osmius agent is extremely easy, fast and robust.

Osmius: Distinctive Features

-Open Source : Osmius exhibits its quality difference.

-Open Analysis : Access to documentation generated during the Analysis Phases as well as articles, architectural diagrams,...

-Osmius leverages ACE : Reusability applied with this extraordinary framework with decades of knowledge and very robust code.

-Multi-Platform : Hardware and operative system independence.

-Architecture Oriented : Osmius is a solution to a set of systems and problems, it is not just a product.

-Market Oriented : Osmius has a Business Plan and an Open Source Business Model with"


  • Type: Software
  • Description: An interface for the creation and managment of prepaid cards and accounts designed to work with a MySQL database and FreeRadius.
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance:Yes - possible candidate for billing integration


  • Type: Software
  • Description: "phpRADmin is a tool written in PHP intended to handle the administration and provisioning of FreeRADIUS over the Web with MySQL as backend. This interface (including dialup_admin) allows the administrator to config, find, create, edit, delete, and test users on an SQL (MySQL) database, create SQL groups, gather accounting information for a user, do complicated queries on the SQL accounting database, check RADIUS server availability, and produce dialup usage statistics, manage (create, update, revoke) PKI Certificates, Dictionary management, invoice management and system monitoring. Really, a system to manage FreeRADIUS with WPA, EAP (802.1X), PPP, PPPoE, Captive Portal, VoIP systems and other authentication methods. phpRADmin show pies and graphs of your network status, usage audits, administration profiles with 3 levels. phpRADmin is Chillispot and WISP ready."
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance:evaluate!


  • Type: Software
  • Description: "ROBIN stands for ROuting Batman INside: a mesh network firmware using BATMAN routing algorithm

ROBIN is a firmware deployed on OpenWRT kamikaze 7.07 and is intended for Atheros AP51 devices such as Meraki Mini or Fonera; when flashed, your mini-routers act as comfortable and 0-config mesh-network appliances."


  • Type: Hardware
  • Description: Low cost, low poer comms boards, e.g. net4521 - This compact, low-power, low-cost, advanced communication computer is based on a 133 Mhz 486 class processor. It has two 10/100 Mbit ethernet ports, up to 64 Mbyte SDRAM main memory and uses a CompactFlash module for program and data storage. It can be expanded using a MiniPCI type III board and up to two PC-Card/Cardbus adapters.

It has been optimized for use as wireless router using PC-Card wireless adapters, but has the flexibility to take on a whole range of different functions as a communication appliance. The board is designed for long life and low power.

It is available in any volume in the standard version, and as board only or with a small metal box and various power supplies. The board can be customized according to requirements when ordering higher volume."


  • Type: Hardware vendor
  • Description: Interesting wireless hardware
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: possibly?.


  • Type: SW, distro
  • Description: formerly known as Asterisk@Home, is an Asterisk distro aimed at ease of use. It is used by e.g. Uninet to provide community Voip. Their intgrated HW/SW product "Trixbox in a box" ... "... makes it even easier for business to get trixbox phone systems up and running. Why buy separate hardware, download and install software, configure the hardware, and test it all yourself?"
  • URL: URL
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: medium - probably covered already or integrated elsewhere


  • Type: Hardware vendor, solutions
  • Description: Vendors of WISP targetted high quality, low budget gear
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance:yes


  • Type: SW management, GUI based admin, etc
  • Description: "Webmin is a web-based interface for system administration for Unix. Using any modern web browser, you can setup user accounts, Apache, DNS, file sharing and much more. Webmin removes the need to manually edit Unix configuration files like /etc/passwd, and lets you manage a system from the console or remotely."
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: yes


  • Type: WISP management, hotspot manegement
  • Description: builds on DD-WRT, Coova. Adds billing, multiple schemes and models.
  • URL:
  • Contacts:
  • Relevance: medium. tech ingredients are coova and dd-wrt. better go direct, Billing part might be interesting to look at, though business models might be incompatible.


Appendix 1: Suggested product names

  • WIAB
  • Wimbo - WIreless Mover BOx (Wimbo = Kiswahili for Song, Anthem, Hymn)