History of OpenWISP
In the summer of 2008 the Province of Rome decided to start a free public Wi-Fi network to be spread over its 5352 SQ KM territory including Rome and 120 other cities for a total of about 4.5 million inhabitants. The main objective of the project, called ProvinciaWiFi (later renamed WiFi Metropolitano), was to take a decisive step to reduce the existing digital divide by fostering and facilitating the use of ICT by citizens.
From the outset it was decided to commit the project to a completely open philosophy. For this reason a clear choice towards open software and operating systems and the availability of every modification, update and improvement to the community was made. The same approach was adopted for the knowledge and the experience acquired within the project. In order to pursue this goals the Province of Rome called the university consortium CASPUR to develop the technical solution. In this context, a research project conducted by the CASPUR consortium found its perfect application. This project proposed an innovative methodology for the distribution of networks (more precisely Virtual LANs used for Wi-Fi connectivity) between geographically distant sites.
The methodology adopted made it possible to host public connectivity services on non-dedicated network infrastructures (e.g.: private xDSL) that for technical and legal reasons could not be used as such.
This is not the sole advantage that the architecture developed by CASPUR and called at that moment OpenWISP, ensured to the Provinciawifi project: embracing the resource-sharing philosophy – typical of "open" projects – anyone can contribute to the network expansion simply by hosting an access point.
The benefits of the collaboration between the Province of Rome and CASPUR were not late to arrive: just after two months (i.e. December 2008) there were more than 50 hot-spots dislocated on the entire territory of the Province. Such a feature would have been practically impossible for the common architectures used for Wi-Fi networking, given the very rigid Italian regulatory laws in this matter. In the course of 2009, a fundamental year for Provinciawifi network growth, the expansion requirements in terms of number of access points and increasing amount of service users, made it necessary to develop appropriate software tools to improve the simplicity and speed of Provinciawifi network management.
OpenWISP allowed the network to grow to include nearly 1000 active hotspots by March 2012 with the projection to grow to over 1200 by the end of 2012.
Today a very high number of public wifi networks in the world are managed with OpenWISP; a limited number of these public wifi networks that are located in Italy are visible at opendata.publicwifi.it
The software tools and the architectures, as previously decided, are now being released to the public free of charge with open-source licenses and as a complete stand alone open source project: OpenWISP.
The evolution of OpenWISP
By the year 2015, the networks managed via OpenWISP have grown and evolved: a lot of new feature requests were pushed in the development pipeline to accommodate their needs, but unfortunately adding new features to the existing software was an extremely challenging and daunting task.
For this reason a new version of OpenWISP was started, which aimed at improving areas in which the first version did not excel: reusability, modularity, flexibility, documentation, programmability, security, community contributions, and international focus rather than Italian focus.
The new version started to look more and more like a Network Management System (rather than a public wifi only solution) and its focus on modular development, extensibility and good developer documentation enabled developers and engineers from all over the world to reuse its core modules and create new derivatives.
Thanks to this huge effort, the project can now be used by a wider range of people and its usage has increased greatly in emerging countries which are just starting to expand their internet infrastructure in remote and rural areas.
Who is using OpenWISP?
Many organizations and institutions are using OpenWISP for their Wi-Fi networks, some of these are: