Wireless Network to Turn City into One Big Hot Spot

By Associated Press  |  Print this article Print

The upscale suburb of Chaska, Minn., will soon become one of the few, but growing, U.S. cities almost entirely within a 'hot spot' of high-speed wireless access to the Internet.

CHASKA, Minn.—This upscale suburb will soon become one of the few, but growing, U.S. cities almost entirely within a "hot spot" of high-speed wireless access to the Internet.

The Wireless Fidelity network will blanket virtually every home, business and city office with broadband-grade bandwidth —that is, super-fast access to the Internet without a hard-wired connection.

Chaska is also one of the first cities to offer Wi-Fi as a municipal service that competes with commercial broadband providers. At about $16 a month for home users, the city service will be cheaper than the national companies.

The city foresees at least 2,000 of its 18,000 residents signing up for the wireless service, creating what information-systems manager Bradley Mayer calls a "connected community" and defraying network-setup costs over about three years.

Chaska.Net has prior wireless experience, offering a more specialized kind of online access to about 85 business clients throughout Carver County.

The city's newer wireless network also is intended as a public safety tool. Computers now found in police squads will be adapted for Wi-Fi use, for instance.

But the network is primarily intended for home users, which makes Chaska and its technology partner, California-based Tropos Networks, consumer-Wi-Fi trendsetters.

Tropos specializes in adapting the short-range Wi-Fi technology for long-range use. This is accomplished with radiolike devices installed atop light poles and other vantage points. The devices don't require hard-wired access to the Internet, only power, which means they can be deployed quickly and affordably.

In Chaska, 64 of the wireless-networking devices are scattered over a 4-square-mile test area. About 200 will be deployed over 12 to 13 square miles by mid-June to create a citywide network, Mayer said.

This is all well and good, said one industry expert, but Wi-Fi isn't necessarily the best technology for a citywide wireless network.

Using the short-range technology for long-range networks is like "using a hammer to drive in a screw," said Derek Kerton of the Curtain Group, a Silicon Valley wireless-technology consulting firm. "You can do it, but wouldn't it be better if you found a better tool?"

Such tools include wireless technologies such as EvDO and EDGE now being used by the likes of Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless to offer citywide service around the country. Wi-Fi, in contrast, is designed to be a "wireless local-area network" technology, with an emphasis on the "local," Kerton said.

While praising Tropos' ingenuity, Kerton warned that the firm's city networks could be subjected to interference from other Wi-Fi networks as well as from cordless phones, microwave ovens and other devices that use the same wireless spectrum.

Ron Pequette, a Tropos sales director who appeared with Mayer at a Tuesday press conference, said the firm has the interference problem licked.

Associated Press

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