Tech Group Backs City Wi-Fi

May 18, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — A citywide wireless communications system in Grand Rapids would help local businesses better service their customers, but concerns over security and reliability are widespread as well, according to a survey released this week by GlimaWest and the city of Grand Rapids

The survey, taken in April of some 500 people on the GlimaWest e-mail list, showed 49 percent of the respondents felt that a citywide wireless network would allow them to provide better service to their customers. Some 33 percent weren't sure and had concerns, primarily about security and reliability.

"The survey was a chance for us to find out how local technology professionals are currently using wireless and how they expect to use it in the future," said Sally Wesorick, wireless project manager for the city of Grand Rapids. "We also gathered their perceptions of a citywide wireless network and how it might help area businesses."

Through a project initiated by Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, the city, in partnership with private enterprise, is planning to deploy a wireless Internet network in Grand Rapids by the end of this year. The survey results are part of a data-gathering process to determine future plans for and potential economic impact of the network.

More than 500 technology professionals on the GlimaWest mailing list, most of whom live in KentCounty and work in Grand Rapids, received an invitation to take the Web-based survey. Nearly half (44 percent) said they currently use wireless broadband at home or at work.

"For the most part, we found that people were supportive of the city's plans to create a citywide wireless network," said GlimaWest board adviser Tonya Wilholt, who worked with the city on the survey. "However, they had some concerns, such as how the project would be funded, how secure the network would be, and whether the project risked becoming tied up in government bureaucracy."

Nevertheless, many respondents liked the fact that a citywide wireless network would allow them more flexibility for business purposes. They expected the network to increase productivity and decrease costs by letting them easily access the Internet at a client site or other location within network range.

"I am excited about the economic development opportunities that this new venture presents," Heartwell said. "Expectations are that wireless broadband will provide an economic development tool to attract and retain business and create a seamless wireless infrastructure that will help keep knowledge workers and attract young professionals."    

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