The city of Spokane, in cooperation with others, is working on plans to enlarge a broadband wireless-communication network that currently covers just a 100-block area of downtown.
The goal is to provide a greatly expanded grid for the fast-growing technology known as wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, which uses unlicensed radio spectrum to enable high-speed data transmission to portable computers.
Although such technology is seen as a potential catalyst for economic development here, this part of the planned network expansion is municipal only and is being designed specifically for use by public-safety agencies, says Joel Hobson, the citys network services manager.
Equipment installations planned for later this year should provide Wi-Fi coverage at points on the North Side, on the West Plains, and in Spokane Valley, and also along main north-south and east-west arterials in the city, Hobson says.
Its sort of the beginning of citywide coverage, which should be in place by the middle of next year, he says. Through current and planned discussions with other local-government jurisdictions, though, he says, What were doing is collaborating and developing a single set of standards that will allow us to extend the coverage throughout the Northwest.
For mobile fire, police, and medical personnel, the system would speed up tasks such as accessing needed data and getting reports approved from field locations, city representatives have said. In a federal funding request about a year ago, the city asserted that the technology has immeasurable potential in hostage situations, missing children, chemical spills, fires, and traffic collisions, to name a few.
Although there had been some discussion of creating a dual-use, citywide network that would have both a secure public-safety side and a general consumer side, Hobson says, We dont have a plan for commercial use in ongoing phases.
Were all in the economic-development business, he says, but in broadening the downtown Wi-Fi system, the city needs to be municipal where it makes sense and commercial where it makes sense.
In smaller applications, Wi-Fi technology creates whats known as a hot spot. Its an area with a typical range of several hundred feet in which people with properly equipped laptop computers and handheld devices can access the Internet without a wired connection or being forced to use slower cell-phone data transmissions.
The citys push to establish a citywide hot zone has been inspired heavily by the efforts of several companies here that have been working with it to develop and steadily improve the Wi-Fi system in the citys core.
Those companies include broadband access provider OneEighty Networks Inc., Wi-Fi equipment maker Vivato Inc., outdoor electronics cabinet maker Purcell Systems Inc., and rugged wireless computer maker Itronix Corp. Representatives from those companies, the advertising agency WhiteRunkle Associates, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, and the Spokane Area Economic Development Council meet weekly in technical and marketing committee meetings aimed at improving and showcasing the network, Hobson says.
He notes that a temporary access point and some laptop computers were set up inside River Park Square during the recent State B basketball tournament to provide instant game information, and he expects that permanent wireless access will be set up in that downtown retail center at some point.
As for expanding the system, he says his objective now is to cover the entire city limits, though the planning effortdue partly to federal grant request considerationsnow has taken on more of a regional perspective.
The creation of the downtown hot zone amounted to the first phase of the wireless network strategy being spearheaded by the city. In the second phase, Wi-Fi switches are to be installed atop towers near the North Division Y, on the West Plains, and near the Spokane County Sheriffs Office substation in the east 12700 block of Sprague Avenue.
The third phase will involve installing equipment that creates a hot zone encompassing the Spokane County Courthouse, at 1116 W. Broadway, the adjoining public-safety building, and nearby city and county garages, he says. Fourth-phase work will provide fill-in coverage, at locations yet to be determined, along major transportation corridors.
The total cost of the second through fourth phases is expected to be roughly $200,000 to $300,000, and the projects are being paid for with grant money, Hobson says.
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