Tempe going Wi-Fi

By Doug Snover

Tempe soon will be the first major U.S. city to go wireless and the Kyrene Corridor could be the first area of the city honeycombed with shoebox-size antennas on city streetlights that will allow residents to log onto the Internet from their home computers and laptops without using telephone or cable-television wires.

Tempe City Council members are expected to soon approve a deal with Maryland-based MobilePro Corp. that will give the company about five months to “wire” the entire city for wireless communications.

MobilePro has said it likely will begin work in south Tempe, meaning that Kyrene Corridor residents and businesses could go wireless by late summer.

The Tempe WiFi network will give local computer users another option to connect to the Internet rather than using telephone cable television lines, said Dave Heck, Tempe’s assistant Chief Information Officer in Information Technology.
Once online, Tempe residents will be able to use the same Internet service providers (ISPs) that they use now, Heck said.
In simplest terms, the Tempe WiFi system is an electronic “pipe” that uses a radio frequency and streetlight-mounted antennas to serve the same function as telephone and cable television wires in connecting personal computers to the Internet, Heck said.
“It’s a pipe. All they (MobilePro and its partners, Cox Communications and StrixSystem) are providing is a pipe. One that works wirelessly,” he said.

Unlike cable television, there will be no digging up of city streets. And unlike telephone lines that need their own poles, the MobilePro WiFi system will use hundreds of shoebox-size antennas mounted on streetlight poles throughout the city to pick up and transmit signals from residents’ personal computers, laptops, cellphones and PDAs.

The “mesh” system designed by StrixSystems will go up quickly and easily, with approximately 16 boxes in every square mile so that no spot in the city is more than about 600 feet from one of the boxes, Heck said. The system easily can be tailored to eliminate dark spots where access is lost, he said.

When activated, the system will allow subscribers to log onto the Internet in their homes and carry their laptops throughout the city without logging off, he said. As computer users pass out of one zone in the mesh, they will automatically be picked up by the next closest antenna to prevent interruptions in service, he said.

Of course, that “ubiquitous” mobility will end at the city limits – until other cities are similarly wired, he acknowledged.
Tempe City Council members could approve the lease agreement that will allow MobilePro access to city streetlight poles by the end of May, starting the clock on the 180-day installation period, Heck said.

Subscription rates have not been announced, but Heck said he expects them to be competitive with rates Tempe residents now pay to access the Internet through telephone or cable television lines.

“That was one of the goals of the city. We wanted to bring in competition,” he said. Users will be able to subscribe annually, monthly, daily or even hourly.

Even more important is the “fee” that MobilePro is paying for the right to use city streetlights. Instead of paying Tempe a portion of its revenue, MobilePro will configure its antennas to create a second “tandem” system that will be available only to the city, he said. Police, firefighters, and all types of municipal workers will be able to communicate through this parallel system, he said.

All Tempe police officers have been issued personal laptop computers with wireless capability, he noted.
As an example of the system’s possibilities, Heck described how a patrol officer could pull into the parking lot of a school in the middle of the night and use a laptop to connect to the school’s security system, accessing the school’s video surveillance system to look for intruders inside the school without ever leaving the patrol car.

Real-time video can be transmitted to and from police officers on the beat, he added.
As for the security of residents’ wireless computers, Heck said the MobilePro system will be more secure from hackers than hard-wire connections to the Internet.

That’s because MobilePro and StrixSystems will use a military-developed 128-bit encryption system, he said. “It’s pretty much the best we have right now,” he said.