Home wifi could be used for emergency responders

Aug 20, 2012
Police in front of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on August 6, 2012. Wireless routers for homes and offices could be knitted together to provide a communications system for emergency responders if the mobile phone network fails, German scientists reported on Monday.

Wireless routers for homes and offices could be knitted together to provide a communications system for emergency responders if the mobile phone network fails, German scientists reported on Monday.

In many countries, routers are so commonplace even in medium-sized towns that they could be used by fire services, ambulance and police if cellphone towers and networks are down or overwhelmed by people caught up in an emergency, they say.

Kamill Panitzek and colleagues at the Technical University in Darmstadt, western Germany, walked around their city centre to pinpoint the location -- but without invading privacy -- of wireless routers.

In an area of just 0.5 square kilometres (0.19 square miles), using an Android application to locate wireless networks, they found 1,971 routers of which 212 were public routers, meaning they were non-encrypted.

This rich density means that an emergency network could piggyback on nearby routers, giving first responders access to the Internet and contact with their headquarters.

"With a communication range of 30 metres (yards), a could be easily constructed in urban areas like our hometown," say the team, whose is published in the International Journal of Mobile Network Design and Innovation.

The team suggest that routers incorporate an emergency "switch" that responders can activate to set up a backup network, thus giving them a voice and data link through the Internet.

This could be done quite easily without impeding users or intruding on their privacy, the study argues. Many routers already have a "guest" mode, meaning a supplementary channel that allows visitors to use a home's wifi.

"The emergency switch would enable an open guest mode that on the one hand protects people's privacy, and on the other hand makes the existing communications resources available to first responders," says the paper.

The population of Darmstadt is 142,000. The location scanned in the study comprised a rectangle of streets in the city centre, covering 467,500 square metres (558,500 square yards).

Explore further: Denmark is world's most connected country

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User comments : 3

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Bill_M
not rated yet Aug 20, 2012
Ham radio operators are already doing this. See hsmm-mesh.org
alq131
not rated yet Aug 20, 2012
Weren't the Europeans the ones all up in arms about Google capturing this same wifi location data as part of their street view? But it's OK for academia to do it and propose that government can piggyback on our signals? What if there weren't public routers and they were all encrypted? are we going down a path where routers will need "Emergency Services" backdoors?
alfie_null
not rated yet Aug 21, 2012
If I were someone who hacked networks, I would heartily endorse this idea.
Seriously - there was no mention of how they propose ensuring only authorized access? If they have thought about it, I wouldn't be surprised if it weren't something utterly lame like a shared common password.

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