Wireless community networks or wireless community projects are the organizations that attempt to take a grassroots approach to providing a viable alternative to municipal wireless networks for consumers.
Because of evolving technology and locales, there are at least four different types of solution:
Cluster: Advocacy groups which simply encourage sharing of unmetered internet bandwidth via Wi-Fi, may also index nodes, suggest uniform SSID (for low-quality roaming), supply equipment, DNS services, etc.
Mesh: Technology groups which coordinate building a mesh network to provide Wi-Fi access to the internet
WISP: A mesh that forwards all traffic back to consolidated link aggregation point(s) that have centralized access to the internet
WUG: A wireless user group run by wireless enthusiasts. An open network not used for the reselling of internet. Running a combination of various off the shelf WIFI hardware running in the license free ISM bands 2.4 GHz/5.8 GHz
Certain countries regulate the selling of internet access, requiring a license to sell internet access over a wireless network. In South Africa it is regulated by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). They require that WISP's apply for a VANS or ECNS/ECS license before being allowed to resell internet access over a wireless link.
The cluster and mesh approaches are more common but rely primarily on the sharing of unmetered residential and business DSL and cable Internet. This sort of usage might be non-compliant with the Terms of Service (ToS) of the typical local providers that deliver their service via the consumer phone and cable duopoly. Wireless community network sometimes advocate complete freedom from censorship, and this position may be at odds with the Acceptable Use Policies of some commercial services used. Some ISPs do allow sharing or reselling of bandwidth.
These projects are in many senses an evolution of amateur radio, and more specifically packet radio, as well as an outgrowth of the free software community (which in itself substantially overlaps with amateur radio). The key to using standard wireless networking devices designed for short-range use for multi-kilometre Long Range Wi-Fi linkups is the use of high-gain directional antennas. Rather than purchasing commercially available units, such groups sometimes advocate homebuilt antenna construction. Examples include the cantenna, which is typically constructed from a Pringles potato chip can, and RONJA, an optical link that can be made from a smoke flue and LEDs, with circuitry and instructions released under the GFDL. As with other wireless mesh networks, three distinct generations of mesh networks are used in wireless community networks. In particular, in the 2004 timeframe, some mesh projects suffered poor performance when scaled up.