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More Cities Set Up Wireless Networks

By JOHN MARKOFF

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 5 Add urban renewal to the growing list of reasons to deploy wireless computing networks.

The city of Long Beach, Calif., plans to announce on Friday that it will make free wireless Internet access available in its downtown area as part of an effort to attract visitors and companies to the business district. The city will use the increasingly popular standard known as Wi-Fi, which lets personal computers and other hand-held devices connect to the Internet without wires at high speed.

The new service is one of the first examples of a city's setting up a free wireless Internet system. It is being supported in part by equipment donations from a group of companies, with the city underwriting the $2,500 annual cost of an Internet connection.

The project will initially provide wireless service to a four-block area around the city's convention district along Pine Street, but there are plans to extend the network to other Long Beach neighborhoods including the marina and the airport, said Bruce Mayes, the acting technology officer for the Long Beach Economic Development Bureau.

He said the city wanted to expand its high technology base and viewed the network as a good way to advertise its commitment.

Long Beach is one of a growing number of cities and community groups that are considering free wireless Internet access. A number of cities are exploring the idea of installing such networks in downtown areas or throughout entire communities; they include San Francisco; Seattle; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Lodi, Calif.

"You can think of these as urban renewal projects," said Douglas H. Klein, the chief executive of Vernier Networks, one of the companies that will supply equipment for the service in Long Beach. Vernier Networks, which is privately owned, is based in Mountain View, Calif., and makes systems for managing and controlling access to wireless networks.

In recent months, Mr. Klein said, the company has noticed a growing interest from local governments eager to find ways to make their city centers more attractive.

"People like to feel like they're in a comfort zone," he said. "If they can attract a certain clientele, it starts to create that aura."

Such networks send a message for municipalities, said C. Brian Grimm, the communications director for the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry group. "It's `don't leave downtown for lunch,' " he said. "It's high-visibility and high-value, and it permits a municipality to easily serve its residents."

Municipal governments are joining a community movement of more than 30 organizations around the United States that now deliver wireless Internet service.

In addition to Long Beach, the Bay Area Wireless Regional Network in San Francisco this week plans to switch on its first experimental access point atop San Bruno Mountain, in the southern part of the city. The network should make the Internet available over roughly an eight-mile radius to users with special antennas.

The Bay Area wireless group is a hobbyist experiment, run by just four volunteers with a donated Internet connection, but the project illustrates the low costs of wireless networks based on the industry's 802.11 wireless standard.

According to Tim Pozar, a radio engineer who is one of the leaders of the experiment, the group will spend about $2,000 to install the system and will increase capacity by adding low-cost antennas.

"In general we believe the Internet is a ubiquitous medium that is a basic tool that should be available to as many people as possible," Mr. Pozar said. It's a slam-dunk and very easy to do."





TECHNOLOGY; Many Tools Of Big Brother Are Now Up And Running  (December 23, 2002)  $

TECHNOLOGY; Limits Sought On Net Access Without Wire  (December 17, 2002)  $

TECHNOLOGY; High-Speed Wireless Internet Network Is Planned  (December 6, 2002)  $

BUSINESS TRAVEL; Using Technology to Add New Dimensions to the Nightly Call Home  (October 22, 2002) 

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