One Week From Wi-Fi
GRAND RAPIDS — A year in the making, the city of Grand Rapids’ wireless broadband Internet initiative will deliver its first receivables to the public today when the first wave of its test sites go live.
“This has been enthusiastically embraced by the community,” said Mayor George Heartwell, who has spearheaded the project since its initial planning stages a year ago. “Seldom does a day go by when someone doesn’t stop me and say this Wi-Fi stuff is a great thing and just what the city needs. And it’s caught fire with the surrounding communities, as well.”
The cities of Walker, Wyoming, Kentwood, Grandville, Rockford and East Grand Rapids also will be evaluating the pilot, along with Washtenaw, Kent and Ottawa counties and the state of Michigan.
A little more than 40 providers submitted proposals to the city earlier this year. Of the 10 chosen to construct test sites, both homegrown providers and multinational conglomerates are represented, each with its own unique take on the technology.
Each network will operate using the wireless Internet 802.11 protocol, commonly called Wi-Fi, which can be accessed from any Wi-Fi-equipped personal computer. While most often used by laptops, the networks — referred to as hotspots, wireless local area networks (WLANs) or wireless canopies — are also accessible to desktop computers with an antenna accessory.
Utilizing partnerships with businesses, schools, health care, neighborhoods, nonprofits and community groups, each network will be a quarter square mile in size and provide free wireless broadband Internet access for an eight-week demonstration period.
“The big thing we want to determine is how do these work and evaluate the feedback we get from the businesses and residents using it,” Heartwell said.
The technology for home and office use has become relatively standardized, but there are several different products vying for space in the large-scale deployment market. This is the first time that all of the leading technologies will be available for public display in a municipal setting in the same area.
With hundreds of municipal broadband projects in development across 46 states, all eyes will be on Grand Rapids this summer.
- Phase One: Beginning June 1
Who: Freedom Net Solutions
Where: GR Police Department, 1 Monroe Center NW
What: The only GR-based vendor, Freedom Net’s is the only test site already live. It has operated a hot spot in the downtown area from its Select Bank Building headquarters for over a year, with a network that extends via retailers like Speedway throughout the region. The entirety of its network will be open to the public during the test.
How: A mesh network system composed of nonproprietary 802.11b/g radios. Owns its point-to-multipoint backhaul network.
Who: Nortel Networks
Where: City Hall/Calder Plaza, 300 Monroe Ave. NW
What: The $9 billion Nortel has designed, installed and launched more than 300 wireless networks in more than 70 countries. It is the only end-to-end provider of all next generation wireless solutions, as well as edge and core network solutions for IP, ATM and optical transport. Will also be testing VoIP and emergency responder applications. Has a local office.
How: A wireless mesh network based on peer-to-peer access point architecture to backhaul data wirelessly to wired broadband networks. City will supply connectivity through SBC.
Who: Northrop Grumman
Where: Kent County Campus, 700 Fuller Ave. NE
What: Virginia-based Northrop Grumman is using the same vendor as in the well-publicized Philadelphia project. Known for its work in the defense field, could be attractive for public safety.
How: Assembled with Tropos wireless components, Blue Ridge security features and its cellular-based network architecture. Needs antenna tower. City connectivity.
Where: Van Andel Research Institute, 333 Bostwick Ave. NE
What: Sprint has been operating hotspots nationwide for six years and is the largest provider involved. Based in Kansas, Sprint has no municipal technology of its own and is reliant on vendors.
How: A mesh network using Cisco’s Airespace product, has partnered with Airpath Wireless to manage it. City connectivity.
- Phase Two: Beginning July 1
Who: Arialink Broadband
Where: Creston High School, 1720 Plainfield Ave. NE
What: A licensed CLEC. Subsidiary of Control Room Technologies, Arialink is a Lansing commercial ISP, with 3,700 customers including the cities of Lansing and East Lansing. Operates a residential neighborhood Wi-Fi network in Lansing and is building a countywide network in Muskegon. Relationship with Consumer Energy could be advantageous.
How: Vendor neutral mesh network using micro-cell technology, small box antennas. City connectivity.
Who: M.E. Global Net
Where: Leonard/Covell Fire Station, 1154 Covell Ave.
What: This Alpena-based company has built a star-shaped fiber and hotspot network that runs throughout northern Michigan and into the U.P. and Mackinac Island. Through that, has experience with CLECs for VoIP and is developing an emergency response network for the state of Michigan. Sees opportunity to expand presence south.
How: A mesh network. Proposes an FCC-licensed network for citywide rollout, but will not use one for test. City connectivity.
Who: Defacto Wireless Distribution
Where: Seymour Branch Library, 2350 Eastern Ave. SE
What: This Texas firm was the first Wi-Fi vendor featured in The Wall Street Journal. Its focus has been on rural, last-mile applications.
How: A mesh network combining its own components with those of Locustworld.
Where: Kentwood City Hall, 4900 Breton Road SE
What: The vendor for the Spokane, Wash., deployment, Vivato believes an antenna atop Ransom Towers could provide five miles of coverage. Will contract out installation.
How: Patented phased array antenna system with mesh micro cell network to fill in holes.
Who: Proxim Corp.
Where: Walker City Campus, 4243 Remembrance Road
What: The California firm was the vendor for Ottawa Wireless citywide deployment in Grand Haven.
How: Patchwork system combining phased array, point-to-point and mesh.
Where: Wealthy Theatre, 1130 Wealthy St. SE
What: The $780-million technology giant already has negotiated deals with local CLEC. With traffic signal control, wireless callboxes, remote monitoring of homebound chronic disease sufferers and wireless parking tickets, ADC has the most bells and whistles of any proposal.
How: Point-to-point network with span and locally powered antennas. Uses its own products.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, deployments place equipment on light towers.
Source: Grand Rapids Department of Information Technology