Rights and networksContents

Neighbourhood walks

To add context to our data from Bethnal Green, members of the team at IF took the Wi-Fi recorder on short walks.

A person holding a phone showing an early prototype interface on a leafy street

An early version of the Wi-Fi recorder interface (Image: IF, CC-BY)

Stockwell (Matt)

My walk last night was kind of interesting and extremely cold. I had a way smaller number of ‘BT Wifi with FON’ show up than similar stretches in Bethnal Green. A lot of Sky networks though. Not many appeared with joke names, just straight-out-the-box serial numbers.

I also got a sense – though the data might say otherwise – that there was a high turnover of network names. I only saw my own network appear when I got right up to my front door. I live in a really solidly built estate, so I’m interpreting that as concrete blocking Wi-Fi signals, which meant I was only really seeing the closest networks.

I walked past a co-working space, a church, a primary school, a community centre, a daycare centre, a couple of religious buildings and a couple of council/community support centres, and I was surprised by how sparse the number of public networks were. I guess I had assumed a few of those might run it as a kind of utility, but their Wi-Fi comes and goes as private networks the same as anywhere else.

Loughborough Junction (Georgina)

I took the Wi-Fi recorder for a walk this morning around the area I live. Right outside my door I got up to 10 free Wi-Fi networks - most were ‘BT Wifi with FON’. Which we’re currently using as we don’t have Wi-Fi installed into our new house yet.

I started walking down quiet residential streets, a few people leaving for work or taking kids to school. I picked up a printer on the public network list; does that mean I could print to that printer without needing a password? I also got a few ‘Ad Lee’ taxi networks that whizzed past.

Then headed to the main streets with coffee shops, churches, launderettes and train stations. Here I managed a peak of 12 free Wi-Fi networks with a variety of names. It was a beautiful morning.

Manhattan (Sarah)

I went for a walk in Manhattan, New York around 6pm. I walked for about 10 minutes down this one long road to the tallest skyscraper when I then stopped recording. It was dark already, lots of people on the street I’m guessing because they were leaving work. I passed all kinds of shops from cafes to clothes shops to hairdressers. As I went down the road the shops changed from really high end stores to what felt like family run businesses that looked a little tired.

There were all sorts of networks coming up on the recorder, at its peak I found 14 open networks. As I walked I wondered where the networks came from: could the Wi-Fi recorder receive networks from the apartments above the shops? Or the apartments 4 floors up? Lots of the buildings I walked past were skyscrapers. I wondered how many networks were above me, that I couldn’t detect. Possibly hundreds.

Stoke Newington (Marine)

I went for a walk in Stoke Newington where I live one evening after work. As I was reaching for my front door, ready for my little adventure, I already had picked-up 5 networks! Just a few steps outside and I picked up 11 which I wasn’t expecting since I live in a residential area.

I walked up to Church Street which is one of the busiest street in the neighbourhood with all its bars, coffee places, restaurants and independent shops. All the way I was constantly picking up on average 4 or 5 networks. The lowest I had was 3, but just for a split second. Once on Church Street I was expecting to pick them up by the dozen but I was disappointed to see that my average was staying the same. Only when I reached the end of the street where it connects with Stoke Newington High Street that things started to get serious and picked up to 17. Pleased with my results, I switched the router off and was happy to be able to put my gloves back on.

Hammersmith (Phil)

I live in quite a built-up area, surrounded by a large quantity of apartments. Once I turned on the Wi-Fi recorder I immediately had numerous networks that I could see on the recorder. I counted 15. Out my door, down the street and onward to work – the available networks climbed to 23.

My morning commute sees me pass a busy convention center, where I was expecting to have numerous open networks on offer. There were quite a few with similar names that pointed at the convention centers network infrastructure. I also spotted a number of printers which were broadcasting their presence. On this short trip from doorstep to bus, the number of networks I saw never dropped below 10.

Interacting with the Wi-Fi recorder had me consider how we are often surrounded by the reach of unseen networks. We can’t see them, but they are there. We walk around day to day, our perspective on things is usually at street level. For me the Wi-Fi recorder took me out of this perspective to some extent.

Brockenhurst (Georgina)

I took the Wi-Fi recorder to Brockenhurst in Hampshire. It’s a picturesque little village in the middle of the countryside, with lots of cows and horses around. I started outside the village, up a narrow tree covered track with one or two houses in sight. I had 1 open network, BT-Wifi-with-FON and saw 2 or 3 private networks with default names. As I walked closer to the village I picked up more free BT networks then gradually started picking up other networks too. In the centre of the village, about halfway up the high street I picked up 12 free networks. I was surprised at such a high number considering the limited number of businesses. Brockenhurst is quite an affluent place so perhaps this has something to do with it.