Rights and networksContents

Mapping Wi-Fi

Researching Wi-Fi is hard because it's invisible. We made something to help us see it.

We built a prototype to record information about Wi-Fi networks around us. Every five seconds it recorded: its location, the names of visible Wi-Fi networks, MAC addresses of routers, the signal quality of each network, and whether or not a network was password protected.

The prototype we made to record Wi-Fi network information, seperated into pieces

The prototype pieces (Image: IF, CC-BY)

A person holding the battery and prototype on a street

Priya tested the Wi-Fi recorder around London (Image: IF, CC-BY)

Results from the Wi-Fi recorder

Ian took the prototype on a short walk around Bethnal Green. Over 1.5 miles, the Wi-Fi recorder found:

Animated map showing where we found free Wi-Fi networks and how many we found

We recorded 46 free Wi-Fi networks across multiple locations (Image: IF, CC-BY)

The results showed that BT were by far the most dominant Internet Service Provider in the area, providing more public and private Wi-Fi than anyone else. We recorded 7 different kinds of public BT Wi-Fi networks (4 of which had the same name but slightly different spellings).

The most popular free network was BTWifi-with-FON, coming from 96 different routers. The next most common was V&A Free Wi-Fi, broadcast by 16 routers around the Museum of Childhood.

The prototype streamed location and time information already collected by the smartphone to a small computer. The computer then combined this information with the details of the networks in the area.

A person holding a phone with the interface for our prototype showing. It display a large "19".

Priya recorded 19 free Wi-Fi networks in one location (Image: IF, CC-BY)

Neighbourhood walks

Finally, to add some anecdotal context to our data, a few members of IF took the prototype home and went on ‘neighbourhood walks’, which we’ve included as an appendix.

Ultimately, the data we can collect about a network tells us little about what the network collects about us. For this, we had to work with a very different material: terms and conditions.