Michigan city turns on citywide Wi-Fi

The Grand Haven Wi-Fi network went live yesterday

The city of Grand Haven, Mich., 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 yesterday, 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 Inc. provides the Wi-Fi service in partnership with the city-owned electric utility, Ottawa Electric Inc., 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 eventually plans to install laptop computers in police and fire vehicles, explained Bergman. He said 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 ability to provide service to boaters also helps the recreational boating sector of the city, which boasts about a dozen marinas, Bergman said.

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 said.

Tyler van Houwelingen, CEO of Ottawa Wireless, said his company has installed approximately 300 Wi-Fi access points and point-to-point radios from Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Proxim Corp. 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 said 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 said. Ottawa Wireless charges $19.99 a month for 256Kbit/sec. service to a fixed desktop and $24.99 a month for mobile service to a laptop at the same speed. Ottawa Wireless sells 512Kbit/sec. service for $44.99 a month and 1Mbit/sec. service for $84.99 a month.

Ottawa Wireless currently has 10 beta users for its Wi-Fi based VoIP service using phones from ZyXEL Communications Corp. in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The company plans to start revenue service at a flat rate of $29.99 per month for calls to anywhere in the U.S by the end of the summer, van Houwelingen said. He said he believes the service will take off when dual-mode cellular and Wi-Fi phones such as the one introduced by Motorola Inc. earlier this week hit the market (see story).

Ottawa Wireless doesn't plan to stop with Grand Haven in providing a wide variety of wireless services, van Houwelingen said. 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, Mich.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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