Visibility as Strategy and Tactic – Signal Visibility

In addition to targeting new members and volunteers through strategic visibility in the media, Ile Sans Fil also targets laptop users by making their name visible to users of mobile devices, either through the use of signage in desirable areas, or through associating the group’s name with the wireless signals themselves. This visibility, for the most part targets the privileged few who own these devices — and who know where to look. closeup1.html

Ile Sans Fil also ensures the visibility of its services by marking the spaces, both physical and virtual, in which its signals can be found. In the physical spaces, stickers and signs (like the nearly invisible one above) bearing Ile Sans Fil’s logo are displayed prominently on the doors of establishments offering their services. Like the brands of coffee served at the cafe, or the type of chocolate available at the creperie, the Ile Sans Fil logo and brand emerge as a recognizable part of Montreal’s commercial scenery, appearing on the doors of cafes and restaurants in the Plateau, downtown, and Old Montreal areas. Over time, this ideally establishes Ile Sans Fil as the “default’ public wireless provider. However, the invisible space in which wireless internet signals are transmitted represents another potential space for marking. A wireless device can only pick up three signals in one location, and each one of those signals bears its own SSID, (service set identifier) which is the name or ID associated with a wireless network that appears when a computer searches for an open wireless network. Ile Sans Fil uses its website as the SSID for each hotspot it sets up. Very often, the signals marked by these SSIDs are in direct competition with signals emanating from commercial providers. When a potential Ile Sans Fil user turns on her device, she will be able to read the names of all three signals available in the area. If Ile Sans Fil’s other visibility tactics have been successful, she will recognize their name among the otherwise oblique SSIDs . Broadcasting their branded SSID in areas where they know a commercial operator also provides a signal is another of Ile Sans Fil’s tactics for marking virtual, as well as physical space.

These tactics for visibility are paradoxical in that they mirror those of commercial operators, who are competing for market share of the same group of wired elite. The visibility that Ile Sans Fil hopes to gain through media exposure and installations in already highly wired “elite’ districts (downtown, Old Montreal) is visibility directed at influential groups: research conducted by Ile Sans Fil indicates that the majority of their users are university-educated males in professional occupations, or university students who have access to relatively expensive mobile computing devices. Despite the very real efforts that Ile Sans Fil makes to place infrastructure in areas that are unserved by commercial providers, in many ways its installations are most visible to groups that are already desirable, and well-served, by other high-quality communications infrastructure. The group argues that this is a normal progression in the development of new infrastructure, and that as time passes the costs of entry to the mobile telecommunications market will lower, and with their service already established, they will be able to diversify the communities they serve.