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
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
"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."