2199: Cryptic Wifi Networks

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 11:59, 9 September 2019 by (talk) (Explanation: Typo in the model name or was it an inside joke I didn't get?)
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Cryptic Wifi Networks
They actually showed up on the first scan by the first WiFi-capable device.
Title text: They actually showed up on the first scan by the first WiFi-capable device.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a Toshiba-U2187-OfficeLink-Net46UHZ. Please mention here why this explanation isn't complete. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

In the comic, a character with a knit cap is on top of a high mountain in a remote location (second comic in a row with knit cap). Knit Cap sees a WiFi network name listed on a handheld device, perhaps a cellular telephone. This is something you would expect in a city, but certainly not on a mountain top, hence the joke, that what produce these WiFi networks are unknown, but seems to be distributed randomly over the face of the Earth, disregarding any nearness to any kind of 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 are 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. Or U2178 could be 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 television, cryptocurrency mining rig, speaker, pacemaker, alarm system, 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, telecommunication facilities, solar-powered drone, distributed exoskeleton, visiting interstellar civilization, 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.

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 Toshiba WiFi 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. 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 actually being 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".)


[A person with a knit cap and 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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Reminds me of these :) BytEfLUSh (talk) 00:17, 7 September 2019 (UTC)

It would be nice to check to see if this SSID exists already (using LocationAPI.org, Combain Positioning Service, Google location services, Wiggle, etc.). Could also be interesting to track use of this SSID over time. Of course takes a while for any changes to show up in the search engines. 02:17, 7 September 2019 (UTC)

Is there a way to make a https://github.com/freifunk/openwifimap-api/blob/master/API.md query out of a URL? 14:45, 7 September 2019 (UTC)

Soon those names will be e.g. "StarLink_6514". ;) Fabian42 (talk) 09:46, 7 September 2019 (UTC)

Could the 46UHZ be a reference to the frequency band, i.e. 5GHz? Maybe this WiFi network was originally configured to operate on an unknown-to-us 46μHz band. 18:49, 7 September 2019 (UTC)

46 microHz would be in the submarine communications area. Unlikely to exist on a mountain top. (talk) 10:23, 8 September 2019 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Furthermore, since the data transmission rate is limited by the signal frequency, a 46 microHz signal would have extremely dismal performance - many magnitudes slower than 56K dialup modems. At ~6 hours per cycle, you probably couldn't even get 1 byte of data per day. I don't think that would be useful at all! Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 20:52, 8 September 2019 (UTC)
But think of the range! 15:54, 21 September 2019 (UTC)

I live in the middle of the forest, even in the winter when there are no leaves to block the way there's only one house even within sight, and yet there are five 802.11* networks in my scan right now. I mean, they're all mine, but still...—Kazvorpal (talk) 23:09, 7 September 2019 (UTC)

"a character with a knit cap is on top of a high mountain in a remote location. He sees" How do we know that Knit Cap is a "he"? We don't, actually . . . . 12:19, 8 September 2019 (UTC)

My favorite ISP is linksys! RandalSchwartz (talk) 17:42, 8 September 2019 (UTC)

Knit Cap may just have forgotten they have a Toshiba device in their backpack, set to 'hot spot' mode, so it would seem like this cryptic WiFi network is following them, making them feel spooky for no reason. -- Malgond (talk) 07:57, 9 September 2019 (UTC)

This "explanation" is mostly incomprehensible to non-tech people. Can someone create a site ExplainExplainxkcd? Or translate the jargon into English? (talk) 04:54, 9 September 2019 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I agree the explanation has devolved into a history lesson in wireless communications, and most of the latter paragraphs are largely unnecessary. The alternate explanations paragraph seems to have grown into a list of ridiculous possibilities. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 12:43, 9 September 2019 (UTC)
Ridiculous or carefully selected from mindful curation? 07:11, 29 October 2019 (UTC)

Trivia could be a reference to number radio stations that were allegedly tuned on the first receivers before regular broadcasts started. I've heard such (false, obviously) claim somewhere, but cannot find it anywhere. 11:23, 11 September 2019 (UTC)

u2187 could refer to a unicode character?

That's funny, it renders on Android Chrome but not OSX Safari. 21:44, 12 September 2019 (UTC)

What is 48 UHz in lightspeed wavelength? 23:55, 13 September 2019 (UTC)

48 microhertz corresponds to a wavelength of 6,200 Gm or 41 AU.[1] The period is 4.1 per day, 5h50m or 29 per week. The alien colony ship? 22:31, 14 September 2019 (UTC)

Sounds like SCP material CCCVVVA (talk) 06:07, 23 September 2019 (UTC)

User:CCCVVVA are there any SCP numbers assigned for ordinary visiting alien colony ships yet? 06:59, 29 October 2019 (UTC)