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Minneapolis wi-fi network nearing completion
The network, which will cover 95 percent of outdoor space in the city, is being assembled in six phases. The first four and a half phases have been completed, said James Farstad, program manager for the city’s wireless network. These phases include the downtown, midtown, southwest, and north neighborhoods.
Phase five, which covers Northeast, and phase six, which includes the Nokomis area on the southeastern tip of the city, have yet to be completed.
“We need a phased approach so we have some control over ... how some segments of the network are working,” Farstad said. Building the network zone by zone allows USI to experiment and determine the best way to hang the equipment.
Joe Caldwell, CEO of USI Wireless, said that as of the first week of February, 11.4 square miles of the city were still waiting to receive the hardware needed to broadcast the signal. Despite complications, he said Minneapolis should be wireless in time to meet the March deadline.
Neighborhoods like Loring Park and Kenwood still lack signals because they're in what USI calls "challenge areas." In these areas, USI has had trouble finding ways to mount the necessary equipment.
USI uses electrical poles to hang the signal broadcasters. According to an Xcel Energy spokesperson, some poles don't have room to hold any more equipment. They have denied USI access to a total of 40 in Minneapolis but are considering a request from USI to reconsider. Also, a number of poles in structurally dense areas like Loring Park are too low to the ground to broadcast the signal well.
“(Loring Park) is probably going to be one of the last areas to get done because of it,” Caldwell said.
Around 8,000 people have signed up for the service, Farstad said. People can subscribe to one of three possible speeds. The one megabit-per-second bandwidth costs $19.95 per month, the three megabit costs $29.95, and the six megabit costs $35.9. Farstad expects 10,000 people will have registered for the service by the end of February.
Peter Fleck, webmaster for the University of Minnesota Extension's Family Development group, tracks the wireless network on his technology blog PF Hyper.com. Fleck said the city and USI Wireless could do a better job of keeping residents informed about the progress they’re making.
“They’ve hurt themselves by not communicating with city residents,” Fleck said. “We don’t know if they’re meeting their projections, we have to take their word on that.”
In the past, Fleck has recommended a list ways that USI and the city could market the wireless network and avoid confusion. He was unsure about the effect his advice had.
“If you have a private company operating a major network for the city, it’s important to know if they’re successful,” Fleck said. “Their success is critical for the city.”