L.B. logs onto wireless Web
By David Rogers
Staff writer

LONG BEACH - Today, Pine Avenue. Tomorrow, the rest of the city?

In an effort to promote local business, Long Beach officials on Friday unveiled the city's first high-speed wireless Internet ``Hot Zone,'' a public-private service that allows visitors with laptop or handheld computers to cruise the Internet for free along Pine Avenue between First and Fourth streets.

Greg Davy, a spokesman for the city's Department of Community Development, said he expects more Hot Zones to be deployed soon.

``We're phasing it in (starting with Pine Avenue) to see how it goes,'' he said. ``The airport could be in the next couple of months. We could blanket the entire city in the next year or two.''

An intermediate step could include creating Hot Zones that encompass the city's marinas, providing service to boaters at the city's harbors and tourists visiting Shoreline Village, and many of the city's hotels, Davy said.

The point, he said, is to attract business to the city's restaurants and business centers by giving people the ability to keep in contact with their co-workers from their laptops.

All users need are a computer, an Internet browser such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator and a ``Wi-Fi'' adapter card that's used for wireless computer networking. The card uses an antenna to communicate with the wireless network, which is different from Internet access over cell phone networks.

Wi-Fi is often used to share Internet connections and printers in homes and offices and to offer Internet access at many airports and coffee houses for a monthly or hourly fee. The cards are often available for less than $70, and many newer laptops come with Wi-Fi already installed.

``We are continuing our evolution as a technology center,'' said Mayor Beverly O'Neill, who officially opened the service at a ceremony at Pine Square between Third Street and Broadway on Friday morning by pressing a ``button'' on the Hot Zone's Web site on a laptop.

The service had actually been available for about a week, said Lorenzo Gigliotti of the Long Beach firm G-site, which developed the service's Web site. The site includes a downtown-themed Web portal that promotes local businesses.

Chet Yoshizaki, manager of the city's Economic Development Bureau, which is part of the Department of Community Development, said most of the costs for setting up the network were picked up by private businesses, which should benefit from exposure for being involved with the project. He said he expects the city's annual cost for running the downtown network to be about $4,000.

Gigliotti said the companies involved also hope to offset some of their costs by accepting advertising on the downtown Web portal.

Those other companies involved include Color Broadband, a 5-month-old Long Beach firm that is providing the Internet connection; Intermec Technologies Corporation, which set up the network's wireless transmitters; and Vernier Networks, which is providing the network's security services.

Doug Klein, the CEO of Vernier, said he was surprised that the first major city in the western U.S. to set up a free Wi-Fi network wasn't near his company's Mountain View headquarters.

``We never thought that Long Beach would beat Silicon Valley,'' he said.