2199: Cryptic Wifi Networks
|Cryptic Wifi Networks|
Title text: They actually showed up on the first scan by the first WiFi-capable device.
In the comic, Knit Cap is on top of a high mountain in a remote location (second comic in a row with knit cap). Mobile devices frequently launch a popup telling users to choose a network to connect to. Knit Cap sees a WiFi network name listed on a handheld device, perhaps a cell phone. This is something you would expect in a city, but certainly not on a mountain top, hence the joke, that what produced these WiFi networks are unknown, but seem to be distributed randomly over the face of the Earth, disregarding nearness to technology.
Cryptic Wi-Fi (or WiFi) network names, called Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs) are part of the joke about not knowing where the corresponding wireless router is located, suggesting they are unexplained phenomena instead of wireless radio devices. Some of the earliest WiFi devices like printers and internet routers advertised cryptic SSIDs, as do many of them today. In 1998, Lucent introduced the WaveLAN IEEE, the first integrated circuit chip set supporting the IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN protocol, spinning off Agere Systems to produce them in 2000. WiFi followed mid-1990s short-range wireless networks like Bluetooth and radio internet protocols like the 1980s KA9Q, with roots going back to the earliest ticker tape digital telegraphy systems from the mid-1850s. Humorous SSID names are not uncommon.
The SSID displayed is Toshiba-U2187-OfficeLink-Net46UHZ which is 33 characters long, unfortunately one character more than allowed. Toshiba is a multinational electronics conglomerate manufacturing many products including untold multitudes of different kinds of printers over the years. Such devices often have embedded wireless access points including the manufacturer name in the SSID. Many network names contain words like Net, Office or Link. The code might indicate a model U2187 device from Toshiba named (or having an interface program named) OfficeLink, which has a sub-model number or operates on a wireless network designated 46UHZ. That "Hz" is an abbreviation for Hertz suggests that designation may or may not have something to do with the frequency on which the transmitting device operates. 48 microhertz corresponds to a period of 4.1 per day, or a radio wavelength 41 times as far as the Earth is from the Sun. Or U2187 could be the Unicode character code for the Roman numeral 50,000 spelled "ↇ" or a serial number for a user or a utility pole. We don't know whether the SSID is connected to a network of more than one or is just one device. The padlock icon indicates that a password is required to communicate. The "join other network" option allows for manually typing SSIDs to attempt to connect with networks which are not configured to display their SSIDs.
While the most likely explanation in an office environment might be a printer plugged in somewhere nearby, other possibilities include a marsupial delivery drone, television, cryptocurrency mining rig, speaker, pacemaker, alarm system, offshore flying wind turbine, fashion accessory, autonomous antimissile defense system node, hobby project, surveillance device, balloon, distributed denial of service attack platform malware-infested coffee pot, satellite, vending machine, seawater dialysis station, telecommunication facility, solar-powered drone, distributed exoskeleton, visiting interstellar colony(?) ship, power-to-gas pipeline valve, ransomware worm nest, or anything else in the Wifi Internet of Things. Sometimes, the ionosphere reflects radio waves, vastly increasing the distance that they can travel to and from remote locations, but this skywave propagation normally affects frequencies below 30 MHz, and never above 300 MHz, so they couldn't be the cause of receiving far away Wifi signals, which are 900 MHz and above.
Network names can be used to track the geographic locations of mobile devices, for example in the Wi-Fi positioning system. Google street view equipment records locations of networks to assist with geolocation. Location information can be searched in tools like Wigle or OpenWifiMap. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) committee number for WiFi is 802.11, which is composed of sub-committees like 802.11ad, designing the 60 GHz Multiple Gigabit Wireless System (MGWS) and 802.11ay working on multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) bandwidth enhancements. This portable Toshiba printer supports the "802.11 a/b/g/n" WiFi protocols. The software which produces SSID listings is administered by network communities and depends on mesh configurations. (Please see also 1785: Wifi.) Alternatives include bluetooth mesh networks and other ad hoc networks to provide internet connectivity services.
The title text indicates that the first WiFi networking client interface displayed unexpected SSIDs. If true, this could potentially rule out all of the alternative explanations other than an alien visitation, a software bug, rogue industrial espionage, time travel, trans-multiverse or trans-dimensional communication, hardware misconfiguration, the simulation hypothesis, or the supernatural. (It is worth noting that cryptic-sounding WiFi networks generated by a time-traveling alien entity as a trap was used as a plot device in the 2013 Doctor Who episode "The Bells of Saint John". Doctor Who is a recurring theme on xkcd.)
- [Knit Cap (who has a backpack) is checking a phone at the highest mountain in a mountainous landscape, with 5 snow covered mountain peaks behind, and a smaller peak connected to and just below that one. There seems to be no snow on those two peaks. Above is a view of the phone's screen as indicated with a zigzag line from the phone's screen to the frame with text. There is also a wifi icon at the top left and a padlock icon at the end of the second line of text. The bottom line is a gray font.]
- Phone: Available WiFi Networks
- Phone: Toshiba-U2187-OfficeLink-Net46UHZ
- Phone: Join other network
- [Caption below the panel:]
- Tech Trivia: No one actually knows what devices produce those cryptic WiFi networks. They just appear at random across the Earth's surface.
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