You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Metro WiFi Coming to Alexandria

Posted in Computers and Software, Miscellaneous, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on March 5, 2007

Early last year, Alexandria ran a pilot program called “Wireless Alexandria“, offering free public WiFi at the waterfront end of King Street. The couple times I tried it, it sort of worked. I could connect to the network, but web browsing was a no-go. I didn’t think about it again until this spring when our studio class began work on an inventory of Alexandria’s environment-related programs. It’s a stretch to call WiFi an environmental program, though you could say it promotes public health in the sense of making it more attractive for people to be outdoors.

Anyway, in updating my knowledge of Wireless Alexandria, I found that not only is it still going, but the city has granted a franchise to Earthlink to build a network covering the entire city. Most of this network will be sold as a service, but in exchange for the franchise Earthlink will make it free in certain public areas. This time those will cover not just the waterfront but most of the parks and public buildings throughout the city. That’s a cutting-edge public amenity for the midatlantic.

The technology, though, is cutting-edge for anywhere. The TROPOS wireless routers use a proprietary “self-organizing” protocol that’s claimed to dynamically route based on observed throughput, with predictive self-healing to compensate for interference, dead routers etc. They claim a 100% improvement in throughput compared to other protocols, but the really cool feature is that it sends off-net traffic to a single wired connection (or I imagine they’ll have two for redundancy) as opposed to having a wired backbone connection for every router. Much cheaper.

It also allows regular old WiFi clients to go mobile by handing them off, cellular-style, to the next router. That could have some interesting implications for Vonage users. The new citywide network is supposed to be completed this fall.; I’ll definitely be waiting to compare their pricing to what I’m currently doing for internet access. Ain’t technology grand?

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