Even today, after devoting an entire month of his life to researching the subject, as well as several more weeks to analyzing the resulting data and then organizing it on a multicolored map that rivals any in a military situation room, Ofir Gal-Mor, 32, of Ramat Hasharon, still has no explanation for the mapping bug that infected him one day in March.
"It all began when I was sitting at home surfing the Web and noticed that all around me there were WiFi networks set up by my neighbors," recalls Gal-Mor. "I said to myself, if there are networks in my immediate surroundings, it would be interesting to check what is in the air further away. From there the idea just took off, although it was only supposed to satisfy my personal curiosity," he says.
Gal-Mor took his portable computer for a walk around the neighborhood, and after accessing all the WiFi networks in the streets around his block, checking their properties and recording his findings, Gal-Mor decided to widen the area he was mapping.
"It spread from the area around my apartment to the area around my building, my street and my neighborhood, and then I decided to check the WiFi situation in the whole Ramat Hasharon area," says Gal-Mor. "I didn't really ask myself what the final result would be. I think it began with my curiosity, which was then affected by my perfectionism."
The concentrated effort Gal-Mor invested became the first systematic mapping project in Israel involving all the WiFi networks in a large town. His findings provide independent primary information on the scope of the WiFi networks in a major residential area, on the relative importance of the service providers in this market, hardware manufacturers, surfers' usage patterns and their approach to information security.
Gal-Mor worked on the project throughout the whole of March 2005, equipped with a "Dell Latitude 600 laptop computer with a built-in wireless adapter that works on a frequency of 802.11 and a SpeedTouch 120g Alcatel-Thompson external USB card," as he describes it in the somewhat compulsively detailed report he wrote at the conclusion of his research.
"I did it every day, including weekends, for a whole month," he says. "After I came home from work at about 8 o'clock each evening, I would get into my car, drive to the area I wanted to map, and start [looking for networks]."
Searching for WiFi signals, Gal-Mor would drive slowly and stop every 10 meters ("without endangering traffic or pedestrians, of course"), and check the reception. Occasionally, his wife would join him; her job was to press the F5 key to refresh Windows' network identification software.
The position of every WiFi network located by the laptop's WiFi card was recorded and later marked on a 1.5x2 meter map of Ramat Hasharon. The properties of each network were logged methodically. Gal-Mor checked whether or not the network was encrypted (encrypted networks were marked in green on the big map, and open networks in red), the networks' service providers, which routers were used to create them and the frequencies on which they broadcast.
At the end of this process, Gal-Mor had located no less than 616 different wireless networks in Ramat Hasharon. He figures this represents about 95 percent of the WiFi networks in the city, and feels that the number of networks reflects the high penetration of WiFi technology in Israel and the willingness of local surfers to quickly adopt innovations. His conclusion is reinforced by the fact that only six of the networks he found are public, belonging to cafes or restaurants. The sources of the other 610 networks he found were in private homes or businesses.
Based on the data, Gal-Mor built a series of indexes with frightful titles and abbreviations. According to the TPWD (Total Population WiFi Density) index, there is a WiFi network for every 73 Ramat Hasharon residents (45,000 divided by 616), and the HUWD (Housing Unit WiFi Density) index indicates there is one WiFi network for every 17.8 housing units - based on the assumption that Ramat Hasharon has 11,000 apartments and houses. The GAWD (General Area WiFi Density) index, based on an area of 22,000 dunams (8.6 square miles) shows there is one WiFi base station for approximately every 35 dunams, or 8.75 acres, and the BAWD (Built-up Area WiFi Density) index, which includes both private and public construction (6,000 dunams), shows one WiFi base station for every 9.74 dunams.
The data collected by Gal-Mor shows a correlation between the number of base stations and the population density in specific areas of the city. Also, there are naturally more WiFi networks in well-established neighborhoods and in neighborhoods where there are more young people.
One surprising finding of Gal-Mor's private research is that the proportion of Americans and Israelis, at least those in Ramat Hasharon, who have not encrypted their wireless networks is identical. Surveys in the United States have showed that about 70 percent of wireless base station owners do not bother to encrypt the information their wireless routers broadcasts, and Gal-Mor found that 71 percent (438 out of 616) of the networks he located were unencrypted.
"The meaning of these figures," says Gal-Mor, "is that Israel has very low awareness of information security. I saw people fortifying their access points and I saw access points that were totally wide open. There is apparently a lack of awareness among Internet technology personnel at the businesses that have WiFi networks. There also seems to be a hard-to-shatter urban myth in Israel that encryption slows down transmission speed."
Despite Gal-Mor's disappointment at Israeli security awareness, he says the data he collected showed the maturity of the Israeli market.
"The types of routers I found indicated that more than a few people brought routers from abroad and installed them themselves," said Gal-Mor. "That surprised me. I was sure Israelis would be slower to adopt wireless networks and I would be able to count all the networks in Ramat Hasharon on my fingers and toes. I really did not expect to find more than 600 networks in this city, and that was only as of the end of March. Since then, more networks have been added," he said.
Gal-Mor is very pleased with the information he has gathered, and even uses some of the data in his work. Still, his sights are set on a larger project.
"I would like to hope that my initiative will be the first step in mapping all the urban centers in Israel. It could be an excellent service for surfers," he says.
Anyone interested in joining this ambitious project is invited to contact Gal-Mor at email@example.com.
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