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It's getting easier to steal your neighbors' unused Wi-Fi bandwidth

BeWifi makes unused bandwidth in one household available to the neighbors who need it.

A new project from Telefonica called BeWifi enables internet users to snag unused bandwidth from Wi-Fi networks running nearby. So, if you have a family of five trying to stream five different movies at the same time, and your neighbors happen to be out for the night, you and your family could borrow their unused bandwidth until the neighbors come home and log on again.

According to Wired UK, the technology has been in development since about 2008, and required Telefonica to build and install routers adorned with software that pools available bandwidth to make it available for all Telefonica customers in the area, through what Telefonica director of product innovation and research Pablo Rodriguez described as "a mesh to aggregate the capabilities [of the routers]." The company is planning to roll out plug-and-play capabilities for the next generation of BeWifi, which would deliver over-the-air software updates to the routers. The pilot program was held in a controlled area in Catalonia, Spain, and required some significant work.

"From a technical point of view it's not trivial because you have to develop the software that is on the router to make sure that the router not only communicates with itself but also communicates in a mesh way with the other routers that are in the neighborhood," Rodriguez told Wired UK.

The current system doesn't appear to be set in stone, as Rodriguez suggested new bandwidth-sharing agreements in which "the bandwidth a customer gets is somehow proportional to the capacity they bring into the system," Wired UK explained. In the pilot programs run, Telefonica hasn't encountered these kind of disparity issues because the customers who have used it have been "on the same tariff" for their internet plans.

The early pilot program has been successful, however. The offer attracted more than 1,000 users to sign up in the first week it was available, according to Wired UK. Rodriguez said the company was "able to double the speed that customers were getting," in some places where users previously couldn't stream Skype and YouTube in the same household at the same time, according to the report.

This could be a huge benefit to people living abroad who may have difficulty communicating with friends and family members overseas on account of limited bandwidth. Especially considering time differences, someone living in New York could video chat with family in China with the help of bandwidth borrowed from his or her sleeping neighbors.

These kinds of programs could face some major issues, too. Will it be easy for individuals living within a mesh network area to opt out of the program? Will pricing structures incentivize such a program? What are the security and privacy implications to connecting networks across wide areas?

Right now, in its relatively early stages, the project is aimed at improving performance, but if it becomes a movement, these are the roadblocks it'll need to navigate.

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