Minneapolis wi-fi network nearing completion

The Minneapolis wireless Internet network should be installed throughout the city by March, according to USI Wireless, the company hired by the city to complete the project.

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.”

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Early Reviews?

I'm curious to know how satisfied the first 8,000 people have been? I'm considering the service. But by far the best deal is to pay for a year in advance and buy the modem outright, I'm not willing to do that until I hear whether or not the service is dependable and as fast as it claims. Has anyone heard anything good or bad?

What I think

This is a good question. One major source that this piece is missing is input from casual users. Coincidently I signed up for the service after writing about it (even though I live in Loring Park, one of the "challenge" areas). One of my major complaints (besides the fact that I have to leave my home to get a signal) is that the service periodically reloads and I need to repeatedly sign in again and again if I'm online for an extended period of time. Friends have expressed similar complaints. I'm not sure why the service does this, and it's probably worth asking about in a follow up.

USI Wireless

You want a comment from a casual user? Here I am, and I’m telling you that USI Wireless sucks!! We’ve had it for 4 months, and every month it’s a new problem. We have the indoor modem for our home network. The service works for a couple weeks (although there are frequent disconnects – a bitstream download log showed that the service disconnected every 40 minutes) and then for no reason the node (access point on the light pole) has some problem and we have to move the modem to the other side of the house (in a window) to connect to a working node. The speeds are inconsistent – one minute it’s 1.5m and the next it’s 300k. Our speedtests are all over the map. It short, it may be the cheapest service, but it’s also the most unreliable.

USI Wirelss suck when it's snow -- Give an F minus

I just sign up with USI wireless for about a month.  I bought their moderm for $79.  When its first snow this year (Nov 2010), that moderm didn't have good signal at all. 

Which service will be the best?  I had netzero DSL, but the bad thing was when you move (within contract year) you have to pay the early termination FEE $150.  This is true even you just move next door.   

need modem too?

with USI Wireless, do you also need to buy a modem or will your laptop simply detect the signal and allow you to sign on, as in a coffee shop? please email me with your answer; thanks


If your laptop can connect to wireless networks in coffee shops etc., it should be able to connect to the Minneapolis public network without any additional hardware.

Network not actually as completed as advertised

I received the equipment today, and - no shock having read all the bad reviews - we have no signal at all anywhere in our house. The tech support person wearily explained that the network is advertised as "complete" in my area (Nokomis, but not the gray area) but they are not done installing nodes, and there is not one near enough to me. We did "qualify" our address before ordering but they still sold us service that they could have seen wouldn't work. I strongly recommend that anyone considering the service try to call tech support to determine their nearest node. I was told that it should be nearer than a city block away from you. I had/have high hopes for the network, but so far it looks like USI has terrible communications skills, long hold times, and is driven by profit over customer service - somewhat like other utility monopolies!

USI signal sucks!!

Almost.......well Everyday around the times of 930am-1200pm and 100pm-400pm, the usi signal doesnt work. I am a block away from a node so therefore the signal/service should be better, but yeh its not! SOOOO irritating!!!

USI Sucks

Prepaid for a year and bought the wireless antenna only to find out USI thinks they are the internet police. You can forget about file sharing, USI Wireless will slow your traffic to a crawl and send you copyright notices. You can forget about stable connections or advertised speeds as well, because you will get neither. (I live 100 feet away from their node.) Unless you like getting lag stomped, you can forget about gaming too; my 256 Kb DSL was better then this. I am trying to get a refund, but their customer service is almost nonexistent - buyers beware.

Why bother.

I've tried USI and I have the same complaints as everyone else.  When first I tried the roaming option with my USB adapter the signal is sketchy and I live 5 houses in either direction of 2 nodes.    I have my antenna on the roof with clear LOS to each node yet the connection is unstable at best.  When I rented the modem and antenna they provide I hoped for a better connection.  Alas, not much of a difference.  If you don't mind dial-up speeds and stability then it's okay. 

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I'm just going to say this, as blunt and honest as possible.

USI is f@#king terrible. Awful service. Randomly stops working. When I first heard "100$ for a year long plan" I thought hey, that's not too expensive.
It's not worth that. You're better off just connecting to your local Dunn Bros. That connection may be just as slow, but hell, at least it stays connected and it's free. 

USI wireless is the ABSOLUTE worst.....

Trust me. I have ordered USI in 4 differnet parts of minneapolis( every time I moved ). If you rely on Internet more than several times a week, avoid at all costs. I have literally had dozens of visits by "technicians" who off the record told me to try CenturyLink or Comcast if I wanted reliability.  It is terrible. Not even the city uses  it when they need reliable service. What is sad is the amount of money Minneapolis has spent to buoy this company.