Big Easy Gets Free Wi-Fi Network

The network is going live this week in the French Quarter and in the central business quarter, and will have speeds of 512 Kbps.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

November 29, 2005

2 Min Read

One of the many hard lessons New Orleans learned from Hurricane Katrina was that traditional telephone and mobile phone services can fail, so the city is unveiling its own Wi-Fi network Tuesday that will be free to its citizens.

The city, still digging out from the ravages of the storm, will build on an existing relationship with Tropos Networks, which has supplied several municipalities with its metro-scale networks.

While Tropos and other business partners have made a significant donation of supplies and personnel to the project, the city will own the network. The network is going live Tuesday in the French Quarter and in the central business quarter.

"Now, with a single step, city departments, businesses, and private citizens can access a tool that will help speed the rebuilding of New Orleans as a better, safer, and stronger city," said Mayor C. Ray Nagin in a statement.

In a sense, the hurricane resulted in a small favor as it caused New Orleans to be declared in a state of emergency, paving the way for the Wi-Fi network to trump Louisiana state regulations that had limited municipalities from offering high-speed connections. The new Wi-Fi network will have speeds of 512 Kbps.

During the height of the hurricane’s destruction, a dramatic broadband moment occurred when existing telephone and cell phone services were disabled and the White House was able contact city officials over a broadband link using Vonage VoIP technology. Satellite phones were operating during the hurricane, but many of them failed when their power supplies ran out of power.

Tropos, which recently announced metro scale Wi-Fi nets for Tucson and Temecula, Calif., was hired by the city of New Orleans early last year to install a metro-scale Wi-Fi network for video surveillance. Tropos brags that its systems can be installed in days.

BellSouth recently offered fixed wireless with speeds of 1.5 Mbps downstream and 384 Kbps upstream to New Orleans. BellSouth said it is using pre-WiMAX equipment for its installation. A broadband cable supplier, Cox Communications, is planning to rebuild its system in the city, expanding its use of fiber in the process.

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