BACK

 

County launches latest effort for community shared wireless

BY RYAN SLABAUGH
Summit Daily News
Summit County, CO
January 12, 2007

 

SUMMIT COUNTY - Summit County is ramping up efforts for a community wireless network, nearly two years after its first attempt deemed "The Beanpole Project" failed to bring reliable service to the county.

New technology and a partnership with a company called WisperTel has increased the confidence of county planners, after watching a $480,000 state grant originally funding the "Beanpole" network waste away.

When Netbeam, the original grant recipient, and then its sister company, Peak Speed, filed for bankruptcy in 2005, the county received criticism for not taking control of the network's assets. It stepped back and began talking with WisperTel, who services 4,000 internet customers throughout much of the state east of Summit County.

WisperTel, who presented its WiMax technology Thursday night at the Our Future Summit gathering, is entering the market to compete with giants like Comcast and Qwest. The goal of the new network is to give reliable access to towns and government, and to help increase options for private citizens and businesses.

According to Don Whitlow, director of product development for WisperTel, technology advancements will allow for about 80 percent of county residents to be covered by its network, which is nearing completion. Rates for private residents would vary, and the county sees potential for free access in town core areas. The company will also be working on "dark spots" this summer, and says increased competition will only lower prices.

Summit County customers should be able to join a plan by the end of the month, according to Whitlow.

The town of Vail recently began a community wireless service, and chose WiFi and not WiMax. Representatives said they chose WiFi because it was unsure of the future of WiMax technology, and it wanted portability within the network. WiMax only serves fixed locations - like a desktop computer in a home - and a portable version - similar to WiFi "hot spots" - won't be available in at least 2 to 3 years, according to Ron Braden, Vail's technology director.

"We're not exactly looking at apples to apples," Braden said Thursday night, comparing Summit's goals of a countywide network with Vail's goals of servicing a small geographic area. "We think we made the right choice with WiFi, because it fit our needs and through partnerships, we were able to build this nearly cost-free, because we didn't want to spend any money."

More than 40 locals and technology experts attended Thursday night's discussion at the Summit County Community and Senior Center near Frisco. Gary Sadler from the town of Breckenridge also attended, and reported Breckenridge is investigating its own wireless network for the town core.

For more information, visit www.wispertel.com.

What the heck is ...

WiMAX? A wireless digital communications system, also known as IEEE 802.16, that is intended for wireless "metropolitan area networks". WiMAX can provide broadband wireless access up to 30 miles for fixed stations, and 3-10 miles for mobile stations. For fixed stations, a user would need an ethernet cord to connect.

WiFi? A term shortened for Wireless Fidelity, which is used to broadcast internet connectivity, also known as WiFi/802.11. A wireless local area network standard is limited in most cases to only 100-300 feet, but allows a user to move from room to room, or anywhere that receives a signal.

Ryan Slabaugh can be contacted at (970) 668-4618, or at rslabaugh@summitdaily.com