June 1, 2008

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Opportunity Knocks

On a warm summer evening, a well-groomed, neatly dressed young man knocks on ...Read More

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Where's Wi-Fi

How Wi-Fi is Changing the Way We Work

Hilary Ingoldsby Whitesides

June 1, 2008

The information highway turned into the Internet. The Website Google turned into a verb. Wireless Fidelity turned into Wi-Fi, and the way we work hasn’t been the same since. Cities around the nation are getting connected. Business professionals and children alike can open their laptops wherever they are and log on. Philadelphia is in the early stages of a city-wide wireless coverage and Chicago recently went back to the drawing board to see if a municipal Wi-Fi plan is financially feasible. City Coverage Salt Lake is on the heels, if not a step ahead, of its out-of-state counterparts. Not only is Wi-Fi available throughout a large portion of Salt Lake’s downtown, but it’s free, not only to the consumer, but to the city as well. In 2002 local Internet service provider XMission gave Salt Lake City an Olympic present: the city’s first Wi-Fi hotspot on the corner of 400 South and State Street, according to XMission President Pete Ashdown. The demand grew and in 2003 XMission provided the Salt Lake City Public Library with wireless capabilities. After a failed municipally funded fiber optic network plan, Salt Lake was ready for bigger projects and in 2005 XMission partnered with the city again. By 2007 all of Main Street, Liberty Park and Pioneer Park were wireless. Convinced that wireless capabilities were needed for the city to be successful and competitive, XMission has always provided the service for free. No tax dollars. No fee to log on. “I feel pretty strongly about not taking advantage of the city,” Ashdown says, “Cities like Philadelphia and San Diego charge millions of dollars to do it. We are able to do it quite cost effectively and the cost for us to install and maintain is far less than the advertising value we get from doing it.” The benefit to Salt Lake visitors and patrons is noticeable. XMission reports upwards of 800 people using the free services every day. Many use the services for fun as they surf the net while others log on for work. “I’ve definitely noticed some local downtown workers taking advantage of the Wi-Fi connection,” says Tom Turner, marketing and advertising manager of The Gallivan Center. “It’s not a bad thing to have the option of moving your office outside on a warm summer day.” Turner also says that Wi-Fi has enabled corporate meetings to take place in the plaza. Setting up a location for Wi-Fi is easier than one might think. It’s simply a matter of determining how many wireless transmitters are needed to adequately cover a location. For example there are about “half a dozen going up and down Main Street,” Ashdown says. Connected While Commuting But the demand for Wi-Fi doesn’t stop downtown or in city parks. After surveying riders, the Utah Transit Authority realized Wi-Fi was in high demand for commuters. In February, UTA started to provide free Wi-Fi on its 60 commuter buses (county-to-county trips) and in just one week, the system had 2,000 unique connections from riders. According to Abraham Kololli, deputy chief of technology and information systems manager for UTA, there are two technologies at work that allow riders to connect to the Internet wirelessly. First, a router on the bus receives a signal from a Sprint cellular network. Then, the router broadcasts the Wi-Fi to laptops enabled with a Wi-Fi chip. The wireless connection on the bus may not be as fast as cable, but it normally runs equal to “middle-of-the-road DSL” with a downlink of 700 kilobits per second. However, because UTA’s Wi-Fi functions essentially like a cell phone, Kololli admits that at times it has difficulties similar to a dropped call. However, Kololli points out that while a phone call is unforgiving, losing a signal briefly may go unnoticed when looking at a Webpage. The project cost UTA around $3,700 per bus, according to spokesperson Carrie Bohnsack-Ware. Finding wireless devices that would meet UTA’s quality standards as well as withstand the rigors of daily travel wasn’t easy either, but both Bohnsack-Ware and Kololli agree it’s worth it. “One lawyer made a comment that now he can get on the bus and start charging $150 an hour,” Kololli says, “There’s a lot of motive because students and professionals can be at work as soon as they get on the bus.” With the opening of the commuter rail from Ogden to Salt Lake City in April, UTA offers Wi-Fi that is a combination of Wi-Fi, cellular and fiber optic technology – something that has never been fully implemented in North America. Such an infrastructure is made possible because the route of the commuter rail is fixed.
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