Internet provider EarthLink and the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, dedicated a 55-square-mile municipal Wi-Fi network this week, thanks in part to a dog.
"It started as a way to protect water-meter readers," recalled EarthLink's Donald Berryman in an interview Friday. "It started as a network to meet a city need after a meter reader was attacked by a dog."
The city began rolling out a 20-square-mile pilot project in 2004 and gradually began adding to the deployment. Berryman, who is president of EarthLink Municipal Networks, noted that several hundred Corpus Christi citizens picked up the Wi-Fi signal and began piggybacking on the network free of charge.
Currently, the city's residents can use the system with upload and download speeds up to 1 Mbps for a $6.95-a-month promotional rate for six months and $19.95 a month after that. A 3-Mbps download and 1-Mbps upload service is also available at $9.95 for the first six months and $21.95 a month after that. Berryman noted that EarthLink expanded the network somewhat after it purchased it from the city this spring for $5.5 million and after the company committed to spend an additional $900,000 in upgrades.
"This [network] is a true public-private partnership," said Berryman. "You have to realize that each side has to commit to make it work."
EarthLink has pulled back from its municipal Wi-Fi programs in recent months as it seeks to perfect public-private partnerships. For instance, its program in San Francisco is stalled as that city's Board of Supervisors continues to review the deployment while EarthLink continues to roll out Wi-Fi networks in other cities, including Philadelphia and Anaheim, Calif.
Berryman said there are some coverage gaps in the Corpus Christi network as there typically are in most large municipal Wi-Fi networks.
What about WiMax as a solution to the coverage gap problem?
"I see WiMax as complementary to Wi-Fi," he said. "Wi-Fi works closer to the customer." He envisions laptops appearing someday with combination Wi-Fi/WiMax radios defaulting back and forth between the two wireless technologies as each respective technology comes into range.
Indeed, Intel, which has spearheaded the Wi-Fi and WiMax technologies, has said WiMax will begin appearing in laptops next year.
The Corpus Christi Digital Community Development Corp. established the underlying fibre-optic and mesh technology utilized in the city's network; EarthLink expanded the network's Wi-Fi footprint and increased its throughput speeds.