News about mobile technology and travel  7 January 2003

Mark Baker of Long Beach, California, sends an e-mail from a downtown Long Beach outdoor cafe via the community's new Downtown Wireless Internet District.

City of Long Beach offers free wireless internet

LONG BEACH, California  As part of a marketing campaign to attract tourists and new businesses, the city of Long Beach is offering free wireless internet access in a four-block area of its downtown business district. The city's next project is to deploy a wireless hot spot at Long Beach airport.

Now, visitors to the downtown area can connect to the internet for free, courtesy of the city's new Downtown Wireless Internet District. Unlike other wireless hot spots, which typically require monthly or per-minute access fees, Long Beach provides the high-speed access at no charge. 

Four Long Beach tech companies, two global suppliers and the City have combined their expertise to create the Downtown Wireless Internet District. With the coordination of the City's Economic Development Bureau, local companies, Development Tech, Color Broadband, G-site Web and MMInternet in conjunction with regional suppliers, Vernier Networks and Intermec created the city's first free Wireless Internet District. The network is the first step in a plan to develop wireless districts in selected business areas throughout the city.

Anyone with a laptop or Microsoft Windows Pocket PC-equipped personal digital assistant with an 802.11b wireless radio card can access the internet. The weather-proof Intermec MobileLAN 2100 wireless access points, based on the Wi-Fi 802.11b networking standard, provide a broadband connection to a centrally located switch at speeds up to 11Mbps. In comparison, an average dial-up connection runs at approximately 54Kbps.

To access the system, users simply open their internet browser, which will automatically load a portal site for Long Beach's Pine Avenue Hot Zone. Users then can check e-mail, download files or just surf, all at speeds up to 50 times faster than with a standard dial-up connection. The Wireless Internet District, which can accommodate hundreds of simultaneous users, encompasses several blocks in Long Beach's downtown core, an area of restaurants and retail shops popular with visitors and business travelers. Future plans include extending the wireless network to the convention center, marina area and the Long Beach Airport.

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The wireless network is designed to allow users to roam throughout the District without losing connectivity. For example, a user may be downloading a presentation while finishing a cup of coffee at a local cafe. With the network's roaming capability, there's no need to wait for the file transfer to be complete before heading down the street to do some shopping. To ensure this seamless coverage, Intermec conducted a site survey to determine optimum placement for the access points and antennas to maximize the range and speed of the network.

"We wanted to make sure that we provided easy, hassle-free connectivity with no gaps or dead spots," said Bruce Mayes, project manager for the Long Beach wireless HotZone. "Intermec's expertise in wireless network design was one of the keys to making that happen. And since the MobileLAN 2100D is designed to withstand harsh environments, we know people will be able to rely on the wireless network even on the rare days when it rains in Long Beach."

The expandable network will eventually cover the entire downtown area. The initial network currently covers an area on Pine Avenue beginning at Ocean Boulevard runs north a little beyond 4th Street. Utilizing the 802.11b standard (also known as Wi-Fi) this network will allow almost anyone with a laptop computer equipped with a standard 802.11b wireless card to lunch or dine on the sidewalk patio of their favorite Pine Avenue restaurant and browse the internet or answer e-mail.

The system is a free broadband service and will have some time controls, but will give the downtown visitor a new experience and offer local businesses some very interesting marketing opportunities. Besides its broadband service, a number of features have been developed specifically to give the visitor a chance to become familiar with downtown Long Beach. 

The system incorporates a specialized web portal that automatically loads when the visitor first logs on. The portal features links, specific to Long Beach events and Long Beach web sites. Using the database, it is designed to give local businesses and organizations (with a web presence) an opportunity to reach an audience that is already in the area. 

The portal also incorporates a real-time events calendar to allow merchants and organizations to list upcoming, events, sales, specials, entertainment or other services. Merchants may also purchase impulse advertising as well. Programs for various advertising packages are available. The objective is to maximize the visitor experience by helping them find out about Long Beach.

"Our goal was to make it easy for unsophisticated wireless users to access the network in a public place without any hassle or confusion," said Tom Paradise, IT consultant for the project. "Vernier Networks makes it seamless to the user which in turn makes it very user friendly. We sent out a number of inquiries in search of just the right vendor to provide the appropriate access point management. The IS 6000 features delivered the necessary access control and wireless connectivity we wanted."

"Long Beach city officials have tapped into the idea of convenient wireless internet access for its business community and patrons of local shops and hotels," said Doug Klein, CEO at Vernier Networks. "By managing every access point, Vernier makes it possible for the city's mobile users to experience seamless wireless connectivity when accessing the internet. The opportunity to play an integral role in the successful implementation of the city's wireless network was in fact quite remarkable."

Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill will officially unveil the public WLAN at a grand opening event on Friday, January 10 at 10:00 a.m. The festivities will include invited guests, Melanie Fallon, community development director, Chet Yoshizaki, manager of economic development bureau, City Council members and various local press representatives. Laptops and access to the WLAN will be available for attendees to demonstrate how it works.

"Intermec has 20 years' experience designing and installing mission-critical wireless networks for high-traffic outdoor and industrial environments," said Pam Cory, Intermec vice president of systems marketing. "Public wireless network access is becoming a Main Street phenomenon. Intermec is proud to have been selected by the City of Long Beach to help it fulfill this exciting vision."

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