Mesh WLAN has Mt Buller covered

If you thought the snow was a place to get away from it all, think again: Victoria's Mt Buller has used a mesh WLAN to blanket the peak with Internet access from the base lodge to the summit.

The WLAN was launched last week by Snow sports technology company SnowSports Interactive. It uses a whispa system which provides back-end management and billing infrastructure to manage access to 14 WLAN base stations spread across the 263ha of snow fields and 30ha of lodge area.

The Strix Systems' Access/One network base stations that are used in the deployment, are rated to -40deg;C and use an 802.11a channel to maintain mesh communications between each other while connecting users via 802.11g. Base stations and range extenders are installed atop lift towers and under protective eaves in the lodges, with outside antennae coated in an oil-based solution to prevent icing.

Because the terrain is so open, SnowSports Interactive managing director Steve Kenny says the base stations can deliver a cell radius close to 500m. In the 8000-bed village, higher base station density accounts for signal-attenuating obstructions and up to 20 base stations may ultimately be installed. "We're constantly pushing the bandwidth and the number of people we can have connected at once," says Kenny, who estimates more than 500 people would typically be within range of each node during a typical ski day.

Network pricing ranges from $5 for 30 minutes to $29 monthly and $279 seasonally. The network is also available to Mt Buller staff and local residents, many of whom have never had Internet access through conventional means.

That could turn the network into a money-spinner: "If people can still take care of their business from up here, instead of staying only for the weekend maybe they'll stay until Tuesday," says Philip Nunn, CEO of the Mt Buller and Mt Stirling Alpine Management Board.

"This provides another building block in our quest to develop a year-round community here."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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