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Dec 5, 2006, 12:10 AM
Unwired Portland goes live Tuesday
Portland Business Journal - 2:56 PM PST Monday
by Aliza Earnshaw
Business Journal staff writer
Anyone with a wireless-enabled laptop or other WiFi-enabled device will be able to find free Internet service in a 2-square-mile area of downtown, bordered by West Burnside Boulevard, the Willamette River, I-405 and south towards Portland State University.
On the Eastside, coverage will extend from the Lloyd district to just south of Hawthorne Boulevard, and east about 25 blocks from the river.
The next phase of the wireless network will go "live" in about three months, though Logan Kleier, who manages the wireless network project for the city of Portland, could not yet say which areas of the city will be next to get coverage.
Portland's wireless project is one of the earliest large-scale projects to go live. The network will eventually cover 134 square miles.
MetroFi Inc., the California company that is building the network at a cost of about $10 million, expects to support it by selling advertising. A paid service, without ads, will be available for about $20 per month.
Portland plans to have some city services use the wireless network: the water bureau, for example, might have workers report meter readings via the network.
For now, just two Portland bureaus are getting connected to the wireless network: the office of neighborhood involvement and the office of sustainable development. Others should follow, Kleier said.
Dec 5, 2006, 3:01 AM
It will be interesting to see how this service works from inside buildings. I'll have to test it from my apartment.
Dec 5, 2006, 3:37 AM
wonder if I will be able to get it, I live just on the other side of the 405, like I go out my front door and there is the 405. Would be nice if I could pick it up from home.
Dec 6, 2006, 6:08 PM
Welcome to Wi-Fi
MetroFi wireless Web access, now covering part of downtown and the near east side, will be the largest free city network of its kind
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Portland cuts the cord today, unveiling the first stage of a free wireless network that aspires to make Web access available throughout the city within 18 months.
Today's launch party -- at noon in Pioneer Courthouse Square -- marks the fruition of three years' work dating to 2003 when Wi-Fi "hot spots" were still a novelty. Portland conceived the network as a cheap alternative to Web access from phone and cable companies.
The city contracted with a small Silicon Valley company called MetroFi Inc. that is building, funding and operating the network. Questions remain about the network's capabilities and whether its bargain price is really the best deal for users.
If it works, Portland will be the first city in the nation with a free network on this scale.
"I think it will absolutely be a showcase for MetroFi as well as the city of Portland," said Chuck Haas, the company's chief executive.
"It'll definitely change the way people communicate," he said. "You no longer have to spend your time looking for a place to connect to your friends and family and business associates."
The initial phase of MetroFi's network, online today, covers parts of downtown and Portland's close-in east side. MetroFi plans to expand its service territory early next year, but hasn't said where it will go next. The company's contract calls on it to serve "95 percent" of the city by mid-2008.
With download speeds of 1.5 megabits per second, Web access over MetroFi's network is much faster than dial-up but not as fast as most DSL and cable Internet connections. Last month, Microsoft announced it will partner with MetroFi on the Portland network by directing ads to the service and creating a localized welcome page that displays news, weather and activities when users sign on.
By hiring MetroFi to take on the project, Portland shifted the project's financial risk to its private partner. Portland's risk is mainly cosmetic: The city hasn't committed to pay a dime for Web access, and if the network fails to meet expectations, the cost to taxpayers will be minimal.
California telecom consultant Craig Settles expects trouble anyway, not with MetroFi's technology but with its business plan. While other cities, such as Philadelphia, plan to charge for most Web access, Settles said Portland has been "seduced" by the promise of free service.
Noting that MetroFi is a lightly funded startup building networks in other cities, too, Settles warns that the company could run short of cash before ad revenues kick in. Instead of making a solid business case for its wireless network, Settles said Portland is taking an easy path with unpredictable results.
"A lot of people have bought into that, but that's not a real vision or value," he said. "If the city doesn't have a real good vision and it all fails, then it's going to be a very public failure and a lost opportunity."
Wireless evangelist Esme Vos, who lives in Amsterdam but tracks Wi-Fi projects in the U.S. on the widely followed muniwireless.com site, takes the opposite view. She believes MetroFi's approach is likely to become the norm for Internet access. Vos likens free Web access to broadcast TV or newspapers, where broad audiences created valuable advertising opportunities.
"The value of the network lies in the number of people using it intensively," she said in an e-mail. "So you want to lower the barriers to use as much as possible i.e. by making it free of charge."
The ads that make the free network possible also could turn some users off, said Don Park, president of the volunteer group Personal Telco Project, which helped popularize wireless technology by setting up dozens of free Wi-Fi hot spots around Portland.
"How the ads are inserted could make some (Web) pages not work," Park said, or frustrate users if the ads are too intrusive during their Web surfing.
MetroFi's network likely won't work everywhere, Park said, especially indoors where walls and windows could block a Wi-Fi signal. For that reason, he said, Personal Telco's free Wi-Fi connections may still be in demand at Portland bars and coffee shops.
Where MetroFi's connections are available, though, Park said its free service could have broad appeal.
"It'll definitely work well for some people," Park said.
Personal Telco's work was a main inspiration for Portland's project, according to Marshall Runkel, former aide to Portland Commissioner Erik Sten. Runkel, who was in on the early planning for Portland's Wi-Fi project in 2003, said the city wanted to create a cheap alternative to Web access from phone and cable companies.
Early plans called for some level of free access, Runkel said, though no one knew then how it could be done across Portland.
"Having a vendor in town to build a wireless network for the city with the backing of Microsoft, that's a home run," he said.
But Runkel, who now works for online advocacy group One Economy Corp., said the network is incomplete without tools to help people put it to work. Still needed, he said, is a program to put computers in the hands of low-income residents, and online resources to help them learn how to use the network to find work and educational opportunities.
"We're getting a C right now, and to really get an A, I think we have to think of all these other things," he said.
Mike Rogoway: 503-294-7699, firstname.lastname@example.org; siliconforest.blogs.oregonlive.com
How high will this thing reach? I heard someone on the news said 2nd story, that's not good enough man.
Dec 6, 2006, 8:52 PM
Depends on how directional their antennae are. A dipole can be set to broadcast in a sphere, all the way to an almost flat disc. In this case I'm betting they're using 8dBi lookdown antennae, so about twice the height of a telephone pole would be max. Further away, a little higher.
You can buy a highly-directional panel antenna from say, DLink; the higher the gain, the more directional. 18dBi should serve about any purpose, but you must aim it more accurately since it is directional. Be sure and silicone caulk it before you put it on a pole, because they leek... because they are cheep...
Get a card with an external antenna connextion, and you should get reception about anywhere. Be advised that most cards have reversed-polarity connectors, so you'd need to buy a pigtail from the Fleaman (http://www.fab-corp.com/home.php), or someut.
Rock on, Portland!
Dec 6, 2006, 9:27 PM
Has anyone tried it out yet? I'm eager to find out how fast (or slow) the connection is.
Dec 6, 2006, 10:24 PM
I work downtown on the 4th floor. I have no problems connecting.
Dec 6, 2006, 10:35 PM
someone in my office connected on the 7th, and they said it was pretty decent...but there is also a mushroom box in the intersection next to our building.
Dec 7, 2006, 8:48 AM
Does anyone know what the network is called when I look up the networks available to me?
Dec 7, 2006, 7:29 PM
MetroFi's current access points
Dec 7, 2006, 10:29 PM
alas I will have to wait to try it at my home, I am still too far away from it.
Dec 7, 2006, 11:35 PM
Full coverage of the city in 2008!
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