On the type of warm, sunny day that would be ideal for logging on to the citywide wireless network while lounging outdoors, Downtown resident Kimani Beard stretched out on the grass next to his laptop at Gold Medal Park.
But he wasn’t using the city’s wireless network. While the 34-year-old Beard said the citywide wireless service is something he might try in the future, he doesn’t yet have an account. And he’s not alone. U.S. Internet, the Minnetonka-based company the city chose to build the network, was still working as of June 19 to get the Downtown portion of the network completely up and running. Until the company finishes testing the network, it will not open accounts for new customers even though some areas of Downtown are functional, said Jim Farstad, a technical consultant who has been working with the city on the wireless network.
“It’s up; it’s running. You’re going to see a few holes here and there because crews are out there filling those in. Until they get all of that done, [U.S. Internet officials] are not really making it widely open for customers,” Farstad said.
Kurt Lange, U.S. Internet co-founder and vice president of systems and customer service, estimated the Downtown portion of the network should be available for customer sign-up sometime early in the week of June 25, but the company’s official date that it expects to have service to customers in that area is June 29. That launch is a few weeks behind an early estimated Downtown launch date of June 5 and is slightly behind another expected launch date of June 19.
Farstad said one of the biggest factors in the delay is that an existing conduit housing wires that will be used in the network was crushed, and crews had to lift sections of the sidewalk Downtown to repair the damage.
“It has been absolutely horrendous. That has really thrown a big loop into this thing,” Farstad said. “It’s completely out of the norm, and we don’t expect [any more of] that beyond what we’re experiencing in the Downtown core area.”
The network will be completed in six segments based on geographic areas of the city. Downtown will launch first. The network will then launch in Midtown in mid-July and will be followed by Southwest, North Minneapolis, Northeast and finally the Southeast corner of the city.
Lange emphasized that the network’s completion Downtown is almost within sight.
“We’re just running into a couple of issues like that that are preventing us from being done right now. It’s very close,” Lange said.
U.S. Internet already has approximately 400 customers around the Cedar-Riverside area and slightly to the south, which served as a test spot for the company in the development stages of the wireless network.
While Beard didn’t have a wireless account to test the wireless network while enjoying a warm summer day, I did. Armed with a MacBook and a notepad, I set out to test the areas of the network that were available June 19.
First, Downtown Journal Editor Sarah McKenzie tried to sign up for an account that I could use to test service in various areas Downtown. U.S. Internet’s website yielded little information about Wireless Minneapolis or how to obtain an account, so she called the number listed on the site. The customer service representative informed her that service wasn’t yet available at either our office at 11th Street and Hennepin Avenue or her home address at 700 Washington Ave. N.
Still interested in testing out the account, I asked U.S. Internet officials to provide me with a temporary account that I could use for a day to test the network. They obliged, with warnings that some areas Downtown were still experiencing holes in service that were currently being fixed.
With that in mind, I headed to the Metrodome to take my first shot at using the wireless network. Using my MacBook and following a simple list of instructions I received from Lange, I selected USI Wireless from a drop-down menu of wireless accounts at the top of my screen. Then I clicked on my Internet icon (the Downtown Journal happens to use Safari), which brought up a U.S. Internet page that asked for a user name and password. After entering that information — and while standing just feet from the walls of the Metrodome — I immediately had access to an Internet service that functioned at relatively high speeds.
From there, I tested the Internet service while riding with photographer Robb Long from the Metrodome over to the Seven Corners area before stopping at the Guthrie Theater. I had service for most of the trip, although I did have to re-enter my user name and password once.
I also was able to access the Internet at the Guthrie Theater, where, standing in front of the entrance, I was able to watch video clips and listen to audio with no glitches or delays and at high speeds. The network continued to work well as I headed over to nearby Gold Medal Park. I also got excellent service outside Brit’s Pub at 11th Street and Nicollet, and continued to have high-speed Internet access along most of Nicollet Mall. The wireless network was also functioning well outside the Minneapolis Convention Center, 1301 2nd Ave. S., although its service level dropped some when I headed indoors with my computer.
However, service wasn’t yet working as I headed up Washington Avenue toward Hennepin Avenue. No service was available just outside the Milwaukee Road Depot at Washington and 3rd avenues, and I couldn’t get a signal either in the Warehouse District just outside of Cuzzy’s at Washington and 5th avenues. Service also wasn’t working outside the Minneapolis City Hall, 350 S. 5th St.; nor was it accessible at Loring Park.
Since I was warned ahead of time by U.S. Internet officials that the wireless network still had some holes, I wasn’t surprised that I was unable to get service at some locations. Officials have said that when they start opening new accounts for customers, the whole network should operate seamlessly. At the sites where I could access the network, however, it seemed to work well and at high speeds.
Reach Kari VanDerVeen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 436-4373.