Southside Wi-Fi Goes Live!

[Last week, Earthlink opened the Northside Pilot Project. I blogged it here.]

Brian Coyle Center, July 14, 2006. South Minneapolis, West Bank.

The City of Minneapolis is presenting the south wireless pilot project. US Internet (USI) is the vendor on this one. Right now, sitting in the gym at the Coyle Cener for the presentation, I can’t see their nodes at all on my Mac. Looks like the system went down or at least a node? Or did my computer just lose touch? This damn 15-inch Mac (aluminum) does that.

Jim Farstad is warming the crowd. He is the City’s consultant on this wireless project. He just told us that there has been 100% conviction rate for crime that’s been video-taped here and the idea is with wireless all those cameras will transmit over the Internet and adding cameras will be more cost-effective.

He’s talking Internet advertising and bringing up hyper-local adverts. ‘Log on in this neighborhood and get local content.’ A more cost effective way of advertising. He says now only alternatives are Yellow Pages (now Qwest Dex) and Star Tribune for small business. My question: Who gets to feed hyper-local access? Can I set up a business selling hyper-local ads? Or will Earthlink/USI sit on that and wait until Google wants access to the market.

There’s a good turnout here. Becca (Vargo Daggett) is sitting behind me. She is our most active community wireless activist. She quit activating around the Minneapolis project when the City decided on the public/private model. She believes in public and that cities can afford to bring in broadband (wireless or fiber or something) and she has some very convincing arguments. She got me involved when I read an article where she was quoted and I started going to the Digital Inclusion Coalition meetings. I helped with the writing and editing of the recommendations for the Community Benefits Agreement to be negotiated with the chosen vendor.

Talking up the CBA and also talking to the vendors at this demo and last weeks in North Minneapolis, I fear that the contract might go to who can provide more money for community benefits rather than who can manage the best network. Earthlink likely has much deeper pockets than USI. But who has the better technology? The US Internet group make the Belair wireless system that they are using sound much better than Earthlink’s Tropos. It can send and receive signals at the same time and sustain higher bandwidth whereas the Tropos hardware that Earthlink uses can only send or receive. Yes, OK, I’m partial to US Internet. They’re local. I like local.

Jim F. is talking security. Equal to wired, he says. If you implement the security. If you just plug&play, there is no security. City wants very strong security. We want VPN as part of this. Vendors are using high level of security. Users must take responsibility. Must have security practices.

Not a bad explanation. I can live with it.

Catherine Settanni takes the stage and is talking up Digital Inclusion, the new name for Digital Divide. I’ve reported on this in previous posts. This is where the community benefit money will go. Many people are not on the Internet due to economics.

The network finally showed up again. It’s weak but I did get to a couple of sites. I guess it’s the card and configuration of this stupid Powerbook. My 12-inch Mac has much better connectivity.

Kurt Lange from US Internet is now talking to us. Kurt is having trouble with the remote for his Powerpoint presentation.

Kurt: Who is US Internet? 11 years in business here. It’s a national ISP. Locally owned and operated. 24×365 support services. 7000+ access points around the country. They have experience with Wi-Fi. List of local customers… Why Wi-Fi is good. Low-cost alternative access. Lowers cost of government. New and exciting applications like friend locators. [PF: What about economic development from useful applications?]

Kurt: Technical details. Multiple nodes on the network that provide high-speed, fault-tolerant solution. Very dense network. Averages about 30 per sq. mile rather than norm of 15. Should be greater bandwidth available.

Kurt: Diagramming how wireless networks can degrade. USI system has dedicated radio, communicating with users and other radios on the network. [PF: This doesn’t mean shit unless we know that the Earthlink network doesn’t have the dedicated radios and aren’t as robust. So these explanations aren’t useful without knowing why he’s giving us the info.]

Kurt: Today. Want to show you a few things. Branded hotspot, that’s hyper-local so you can serve different content. Users in a coffee shop could see a branded coffee shop node. Pay as you go for visitors. Pre-paid services, businesses could sell them and buy access. Hotels can offer to guests. Users could get access anywhere in the city. CTCs (community technology centers) could give out prepaid services. VOIP: Wi-Fi phone service.

Q&A
What are your upload/download speeds? 3-12 Mbps expected on the network but you might have to pay more for higher speeds.

Can a unintelligent box (router) talk to the network? Yes. Standards apply.

Do you need other hardware to connect for security? There will be a customer device and it will be secure. You will be able to authenticate securely with various other methods. [PF: There are Mac compatibility issues here, I think, according to what Earthlink said last week.]

Can mobile user jump from one node to another transparently? Yes.

Vendor technology for the nodes? Belair.

CPE equipment choices? (customer devices) Peplink and Ruckus are the leading contendors.

Do you need customer device? No. You can use built-in Wi-Fi card but will depend on coverage in your location. Plus the type of home you live in. [PF: Stucco homes will block radio signals.]

Will this system span St. Paul? What happens with you get to the border? [PF: Jim Farstad jumps in.] Lists different cities that met about this topic. Then discusses U of Minnesota and bridging to the U of M. Whether St. Paul does exactly what wehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif do, there are ways to expand the system. [PF: USI has a U of MN option on their sign-in page and say it will be working soon.]

I have a home network cable modem. What’s going to happen? You can replace your cable modem and use ours.

I showed up, got a card, thought it was my SSID, I was confused, how do you think it will be easier from a customer perspective? In full deployment, number of options for connecting, user name and password, or alternate authentication which would allow auto connecting. Different options to connect.
Response: I’m an IT professional. I was intimidated. What’s going to be easier.
Kurt: bad design of our web site didn’t help. Too small where you had to log-in. Part of it is making it easier on the site. “We’ll get better at it.”

If I have multiple computers will I need separate accounts? Maybe. Might be extra fees for connectivity. Maybe family packages. Jason (my USI guy) chimes in that it will be single sign-on for subscription services.

We are done. I have a very weak signal here. Drat.

Other posts about Minneapolis municipal wireless.

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