Free gaming bandwidth on community networks
Alternatives to online multiplayer gaming and other services exist, if you’re willing to start a new hobby
South African gamers living in the major metros may not be aware that there is a viable and cost-effective alternative to internet-based gaming and content acquisition services. Known as wireless user groups (WUGs), these are high-speed wireless networks operating on free public frequencies.
WUGs are built out by the community of users, who connect to each other using wireless network equipment set up at their location. Some users can become nodes on the network, routing traffic to others. The WUG administrators will maintain the most important core high-sites on the network, to which users can also connect.
A standard kit of required wireless equipment, including a router-board, cables, and antenna, will cost around R1,700 to R1,900 to get users up and running. This assumes that you have a PC ready to use.
Once set up, the WUG network is basically free to use, with no bandwidth cost considerations. In some cases, such as with JAWUG, an annual membership fee (R360) is requested; as a non-profit organisation, this is used to maintain the core sites on the network. It is important to note that WUGs do not provide Internet access.
To learn more, we caught up with representatives from three of the largest WUGs around SA: Cape Town’s CTWUG, Pretoria’s PTAWUG, and Joburg’s JAWUG.
This first pertinent question for gamers is whether WUGs can provide a suitable platform for network gaming. CTWUG’s Francois Steyn replied with an emphatic “Definitely!”
“We have ‘Gametime’ – a dedicated timeslot every day when users can play games at low latency. We have sophisticated Quality of Service scripts that prioritize game traffic. These scripts gets enabled during Gametime to ensure optimum performance for the gamers,” explained Steyn.
“[Gametime] is dedicated between 8PM and 12AM every weekday, with Fridays running until 3AM on Saturday morning, Saturdays starting at 3PM to 3AM on Sunday, and Sundays between 5PM and 12AM. Gametime can be switched on within 20 minutes by the game admins, who also schedule extra gametime for public holidays,” said Steyn.
JAWUG’s Shaun Boshoff said “gaming on the WUG is most definitely possible. In fact, in some cases it’s superior to internet gaming from the latency perspective.”
“It’s not uncommon for single digit latencies in a well-connected area. The traditional Highsite/Client design is…better than ADSL to produce quality connections for gaming and often provides sub 30ms ping times.”
CTWUG’s Steyn indicated an average latency across 15 hops of about 20-45ms. PTAWUG indicated latencies from as low as 8ms, with a few going up to 89ms.
Distances, line of sight, signal strength, and the number of users on a node can all be factors affecting latency, but the results are comparable to, if not better than ADSL services. PTAWUG’s Fernando Pires said that “latency can be really good sometimes, but bad if there is a bad link somewhere.”
Popular games on the WUGs
Popular games across all of the WUGs discussed include:
- Call Of Duty
- World Of WarCraft
- Counter Strike Source
- Warcraft 3 DotA
This is by no means the limit of games played, as users can take charge of their own gaming destiny. “The WUG is open for anyone to host any kind of game server; everything is hosted and maintained by users at their own premises,” said PTAWUG’s Dawie Joubert. “Other services for gamers include a Teamspeak server hosted at Pretoria Central high-site.”
“Gaming across WUGS (especially to PTAWUG) is where it gets really interesting as it adds to the variety and competitiveness,” said JAWUG’s Boshoff.
Gaming is only one of the attractions on the WUGs; as a hobbyist community, there are many projects and initiatives taking place across the networks.
“CTWUG offers a wide range of possibilities for the game enthusiast, Wi-Fi guru, IT techie, or even anyone who just wants to be part of an 850+ user community network,” said Steyn.
PTAWUG members can now enjoy free online radio streaming, after Antfarm officially started streaming on their wireless network. These stations include Jacaranda, Talk 702, and TuksFM, and more are being negotiated. The PTAWUG currently has over 1,499 registered nodes on its network.
“The possibilities are endless,” said Boshoff. “This can be anything from webservers, to audio/video streaming, to hosting software repositories like a Linux distribution, or mirroring public FTP repositories.”
“If it can run on the Internet or a LAN, chances are it can run on the WUG,” said Boshoff.
To learn more about the WUG’s head on over to their websites. All have extensive guides on equipment and setup, and helpful members willing to offer tips and advice: