Wi-Fi Geographies

Paul Torrens (Arizona State University)

Analog wireless data have coursed through our cities for almost 100 years. In recent decades, digital data have also hitched a ride on the airwaves, blanketing our cities in an urban data cloud. The clouds of wireless data that envelop our cities have taken on a newly disruptive relevance, however, as new technologies based on Wi-Fi infiltrated the airwaves, untethering internet users from their wired desktop machines and delivering network resources to moving vehicles, cell phones, and handheld game consoles. Newly ubiquitous urban sensor webs rely on Wi-Fi as ambient network infrastructure.

We have, simultaneously, entered into a brave new world where identity thieves can pluck data from your home network from a mile away, where the business model for mobile telephony is being challenged by VoIP on impromptu networks, and where computer viruses that spread through the air like influenza are no longer the domain of science fiction. The geography of Wi-Fi networks is of growing significance. Yet, examination of the space of Wi-Fi poses problems as wireless data traffic is invisible to the eye and its underlying apparatus is largely unregulated, open source, and cheap to deploy, and sits hidden behind closed doors, veiled to traditional geographic inquiry.

This presentation will introduce a scheme for detecting, analyzing, and visualizing Wi-Fi infrastructure and transmissions, focusing on Wi-Fi signals, spectrum-space, and security, commercial penetration and public use, access point location and crowding, relationships between Wi-Fi and urban design, the digital divide, and last-mile issues.

Photo of Paul Torrens

Paul Torrens

Arizona State University

Dr. Paul M. Torrens is an Assistant Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences at Arizona State University, an Affiliate in the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, and an Affiliate in the GeoDa Center for Geospatial Analysis and Computation. He is also Director of Geosimulation Labs, LLC, a research and development consultancy. He holds a Ph.D. from University College London (2004), Master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin (1999) and Indiana University (1998), and a Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College Dublin (1996). His research is focused on Geographic Information Science and development of geosimulation and geocomputation tools, applied modeling of complex urban systems, and new emerging cyberspaces. His projects have been supported by the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Herberger Foundation, Science Foundation Arizona, Autodesk, Inc., and Alias Research. His work earned him a CAREER Award from the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2007. (See http://geosimulation.org for more details.)

  • Autodesk
  • Google
  • ESRI
  • Nokia
  • DigitalGlobe
  • Earthscape
  • EveryScape.com
  • LightPole
  • MapJack
  • MapQuest
  • MetaCarta
  • Microsoft
  • Poly9
  • Skyhook Wireless
  • TeleAtlas
  • Yahoo! Inc.
  • Zvents
  • BNet

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