Black Rock City Wireless Networks

Computer use at Burning Man is a politically touchy subject. Some of the most influential members of the community regard it as a Bad Thing and think BRC residents should check their Internet habit at the gate. Others disagree.

Burning Bell was a best-effort store-and-forward message system. Its packets were yellow, 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" in size and featured a map of BRC on one side and a message blank on the other.

PlayaNet was a wireless IP Intranet network running IEEE 802.11b wireless ethernet technology using both Cisco's Aironet and Lucent Technology's ORiNOCO (WaveLAN) equipment and HyperGain 15 dBi omnidirectional antennae. The root node was at the Fusion Valley theme camp ( at the 3:00 Outpost. Originally there were to have been two high-gain repeater antennae, but coverage was adequate with just one, at Center Camp.

PlayaNet's co-conspirators, Matt Peterson, Tristan Horn and Chris Petrell also planned to provide a wireless kiosk-based messaging system, but lightning strikes put an end to those plans early in the week.

Internet access at Burning Man 2000 was provided by the members of the Oregon County Fair Embassy ( at 9:15 and Head Way with help from John Gilmore (, one of the Internet's long-time patron saints. The service made use of a Tachyon Access Point ( satellite uplink as an Internet gateway.

Otherwise, there were a lot of technical similarities between the OCF Embassy system and PlayaNet -- both used the 802.11 wireless ethernet protocol and Cisco Aironet bridges, for instance. Indeed, users only had to change their SSID to switch between the two networks.

The OCF folks had only one high-gain antenna, but SMRL's "Yosemite" Sam Phillips reported access speeds "better than DSL" at the SMRL camp on the opposite side of the Esplanade.

(Copyright© 2000 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)