Michigan City Goes Wireless

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The city of Grand Haven, Michigan, is the latest municipality to embrace Wi-Fi as a way to provide Internet access to residents, provide high-speed data services to city departments, and try to lure new tech-savvy residents.

But the Grand Haven Wi-Fi network, which was turned on Thursday, also offers more than the usual Wi-Fi access. It has also been designed to provide service to boaters up to 15 miles offshore on Lake Michigan and support mobile voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone service.

Grand Haven-based Ottawa Wireless provides the Wi-Fi service in partnership with the city-owned electric utility, Ottawa Electric, according to Mayor Roger Bergman. The city has allowed Ottawa Wireless to install its Wi-Fi antennas on the smokestack at the power plant as well as on light poles. In turn, it receives a portion of the company's revenues from the service, which blankets the city's six square miles.

Grand Haven plans to connect up all its departments--including police, fire and public works--and plans to install laptop computers in police and fire vehicles, Bergman says. He notes that he can now use his Wi-Fi-equipped laptop anywhere in the city--and could even use it while driving, but he doesn't do so for safety reasons.

Bergman also sees the Wi-Fi network as a way to attract new residents who need anytime, anywhere access and believes it enhances the city's "cool" factor. The capability to provide service to boaters also helps the recreational boating sector of the city, which boasts about a dozen marinas, Bergman says.

Receptive Users

Rick Lubbers, a Grand Haven Web designer who runs Hitspring Interactive, lives aboard his classic 42-foot Chris-Craft boat in the summer and uses the Ottawa Wireless Wi-Fi network to manage "thousands of Web pages" while miles offshore from his marina. The wooden boat is equipped with a three-foot-tall antenna connected to a wireless modem, and the blanket coverage within the city allows him to meet with potential clients remotely and show them his work on his Wi-Fi equipped laptop, Lubbers says.

Tyler van Houwelingen, CEO of Ottawa Wireless, says his company has installed approximately 300 Proxim Wi-Fi access points and point-to-point radios to cover Grand Haven and provide service to boaters. The network uses Proxim's tri-mode Orinoco AP-4000 access points, which operate under the 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi standards with backhaul to a fiber-optic Internet connection handled by Proxim's Tsunami MP.11a point-to-multipoint equipment.

Van Houwelingen says Ottawa Wireless offers Internet access only on the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard because he found the range "disappointing" with the 802.11g standard. The backhaul system operates on the 802.11a standard, van Houwelingen says. Ottawa Wireless charges $19.99 monthly for 256kbps service to a fixed desktop, and $24.99 monthly for mobile service to a laptop at the same speed. Ottawa Wireless sells 512kbps service for $44.99 monthly and 1MBps service for $84.99 monthly.

Next: Voice Support

Ottawa Wireless currently has ten beta users for its Wi-Fi-based VoIP service using phones from ZyXEL Communications.

The company plans to start revenue service at a flat rate of $29.99 monthly for calls to anywhere in the U.S by the end of the summer, van Houwelingen says. He believes the service will take off when dual-mode cellular and Wi-Fi phones such as one recently introduced by Motorola hit the market.

Ottawa Wireless doesn't plan to stop with Grand Haven in providing a wide variety of wireless services, van Houwelingen says. The company has already started providing service from its base station antenna atop the power plant to nearby small towns such as Spring Lake, as well as the city of Muskegon, Michigan.

This story, "Michigan City Goes Wireless" was originally published by Computerworld.

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