Wireless City

I’m writing this entry sitting in a café in downtown Salem. Nothing new and exciting with that concept. But what is exciting is that I could be writing this entry from the juice bar up the street, the museum, or any number of spots around town.
A privately-funded, free, open Wi-Fi network has opened in Salem — and spreads across a major portion of the downtown. SalemOpen.net is responsible for setting up the project, getting the city and businesses involved, often getting them to help out with the recurring costs. A similar network was set up on Boston’s Newbury Street a while back, but this is on a much larger scale.
Normally, Wi-Fi “hot spots” are often available by businesses willing to set up the network and eat the costs themselves. But the idea here is to make the entire city “hot” in order to provide free access to anyone.
It makes sense from both a business and community perspective. Here I am, getting out of my closet/office (a much needed activity these days), spending a little dough at the café. The access is free, and I may be inclined to come back — not only this café, but any of the other businesses that are within the network.
If other cities haven’t already set up similar networks, I’m sure they will. Imagine if every city started offering free access — getting people online that might otherwise not be able to afford it. I won’t delve into the security concerns this brings up.
And I predict that the number of beverage-related laptop illnesses will dramatically rise. You heard it here, first.

29 Comments

  1. Hans says:

    That probably won’t happen 100% in Chicago until wireless technology becomes better… There are tons of highrises and thick concrete walls behind which you cannot get any kind of wireless signal… At least not yet.
    You’re lucky. An entire city full of wireless spots sure beats stealing the neighbor’s network. Is it 802.11b or g?

  2. I just don’t think many ISP’s would like it. That would take away a kindda big amount of customers, as far as I see :)

  3. Hans says:

    Sorry for the second post, but do you know what’s up with Doug’s site? StopDesign has been down today…

  4. Daniel says:

    “If other cities haven’t already set up similar networks”
    Umm, no Salem is not the first city with free wi-fi…
    Look here
    Look here
    Look here

  5. sean says:

    Wireless Everywhere!!! I am all for it. Of course it bould be better with a Powerbook then my toshiba.
    Off topic StopDesign is moving hosts…

  6. Corey says:

    I’m licensed HAM radio operator, and 802.11 frequencies fall into the range of amateur radio. As such, I am authorized to boost an 802.11 signal up to 1500 watts. Normal 802.11g home routers put out anywhere from 100 to 800mW. I have seen reports of people using about 50W of power and having the signal radiate strong enough to be usable for more than 60 miles. It’s a very interest technology.

  7. Kevin Tamura says:

    I’ve always found it interesting how small independent coffee shops offer free Wi-Fi access and the corporate places like Starbucks charge. Here’s hoping the Seattle network succeeds.

  8. Tijn says:

    Also in Holland Wi-Fi spots are arising, see Wireless Leiden.
    Cheers.

  9. compuwhiz7 says:

    I also doubt that ISPs are terrifically keen on this notion, but I think it’s quite neat. The notion of boosting signals via ham radio up to around 60 miles is a very nice idea… I smell extra incentive to get licensed.

  10. compuwhiz7 says:

    Hans: Stopdesign is switching hosts.

  11. This isn’t fair, we only have one place in town with wifi and it isn’t even very good, while these other cities are being blanketed with free access.
    Oh well, one of these days we will get it too.

  12. dspn says:

    Ain’t it cool? ;)
    There’s just one place in my town with WiFi, but it’s a strong signal, and it’s free. Looking forward to an upcoming Seattle visit, where there’s a similar open community Wireless Freenet.

  13. Rob says:

    Last summer, the city of St. Louis teamed up with an ISP to offer wireless in a “42-square-block” area. I personally haven’t used it yet (when I’m outside and downtown I’m usually trying to get away from my computer :)), but I did find it interesting that the ISP was helping out.
    St. Louis plans to offer free wireless network downtown

  14. dspn says:

    Another thing: if WiFi signals can be boosted as Corey says, why aren’t companies like T-Mobile offering nation-wide coverage, instead of hotspots? They could just add antennas to their existing cell towers… Now that would be cool, driving down the interstate with uninterrupted WiFi. :)

  15. jon says:

    Go eat at the pigs eye:

  16. Darren says:

    Free WiFi sounds great. Here in the UK the providers are pricing themselves out of the market. BT OpenZone charge either (I think)

  17. Todd says:

    Love Park here in Philadelphia just went wireless last week. If I had a laptop I would go try it out.
    The townhome development where I live is also expressing interest in putting in a wireless network to boost interest in the area by potential buyers. Things are getting interesting when in comes to WiFI.

  18. Brent says:

    Free wifi is great. My hometown, Spokane, WA, just released a 100 block “free” access. While not totally free, it is 2 hours per day free. Which makes it quite usable! (http://www.spokanehotzone.com/) This is a great change to see so many free hotspots coming up!

  19. Hans – Good question, I didn’t actually check. I believe it’s 802.11g.
    jon – a fine pub indeed :-)

  20. Jason Kilpatrick says:

    Here in Austin, we have an organization promoting free wifi.
    Austin Wireless City
    So far we have free wifi in one public park and three others are planned for wifi access. They offer cool Tshirts too.

  21. Alistair says:

    My ISP has implemented an extensive wireless network across their home city of Adelaide in South Australia.
    The coolest thing about it is, at the moment it totally free to anyone who is with a participating ISP. Their goal, is that they will pass your traffic (Mb used) back onto your own ISP once the calendar month has passed; and my ISP will invoice them for your usage. That way, everyone can use it without worrying about dollars/hr which we are accustomed to.
    It is hell fast too, we regularly see speeds around 650-700KB/s from it.

  22. Don’t know about the closet Dan ;-) but I surely be concerned about this http://www.karmakars.com/weblog/archives/2003/12/23/wifi_security/
    Wireless technology just like digital photography is still at its infancy! Doesn’t mean we don’t try but it comes with hidden costs!! :)

  23. Jeremy S. says:

    Winnipeg, my dear little city, has started to set one up as well. You can check it out here.

  24. Another thing I must point out is that you cannot prove a vague theory wrong.

  25. Benjamin says:

    There is a large area in downtown Milwaukee, WI along a major river/riverwalk that has free access. There are other areas proposed to come up as well.
    I suppose that even without a laptop, you could still make use of it if you lived downtown in the condos along the river.

  26. Trev Stair says:

    Portsmouth, NH is also making some strides in the free wifi push. A number of businesses have joined together and Market Square and Prescott Park have good wifi reception.
    It’s funny, because there is a Starbucks on the square. I am not sure if they offer wireless, but it would seem pretty silly to pony up the cash when you could walk right outside and get it for free.
    More info here:
    eCoast wifi

  27. Daniel says:

    Chock up another soon-to-be user of Spokane’s wi-fi zone… (Hi Brent!)
    They picked a great time to premiere it, with Hoopfest and all. Unfortunately, I still need to buy my own PowerBook to get real good use of the thing… now that WWDC is half over, I’m ready for one! :D

  28. Will says:

    Wow, I go away for a week on the Queen Mary 2 (highly recommended) and come back to find out my hometown has joined the 21st century. Now to see if I can get access at my favorite pub (McSwiggin’s). Guinness and free wi-fi, I love it!

  29. Hayward, CA has a wifi router coming out of city hall available for free to the city’s down town area.
    Los Gatos, CA has their park/plaza downtown wifi enabled.
    I’m very interested in Bay Area Free WiFi, so if you know of any let me know!