In an interview Wednesday, Rick Leu, chief technology officer for the city of Akron, said that, although the initial rollout is still viewed as a pilot, the overall plan is for the network to be upgradeable. "We don't want to get tied into Wi-Fi," he said.
MobilePro Corp. said that its NeoReach Wireless Division has been chosen to design, deploy and operate the metro-wide network. The firm said wireless access will be available for both fixed and mobile uses.
The plan, which still needs approval from the Akron City Council, calls for the multi-spectrum Wi-Fi /WiMAX mesh network to offer a range of free and fee-based services with data, voice and video capability.
Akron Mayor Don Plusuellic hailed the program, stating: "To be progressive and keep up with the demands of technology, we need to 'unwire' the city." With the advanced wireless network in place, city officials hope one advantage of its presence will be to help keep younger tech-savvy citizens from moving away from the city.
Karrie Rockwell, spokesperson for NeoReach, said its hardware partner on the project, Strix Systems, has card slots in its radios that will enable easy upgrading from Wi-Fi to WiMAX when the latter technology becomes more widely available.
"We've taken a proactive approach," she said. "When WiMAX becomes available, we'll be able to easily (upgrade)." WiMAX, which covers wider areas than Wi-Fi, is hitting the market now in the form of "pre-WiMAX" equipment. Formal standards approved by the WiMAX Forum are expected soon, even though the technology is being rolled out in installations across the world.
NeoReach is also installing its networks with Strix in other communities including Tempe, Ariz., and Sacramento.
Different municipalities are taking different approaches to installing metro-wide wireless networks. Akron's Leu said the city is planning to charge for use of the network on a sliding scale, with some usage free-of-charge before fees are leveled. He said the initial rollout, which is expected to get underway early next year, is for an hour of two of free service to be available with limited features. Subscription services would be offered on annual, monthly, daily, and hourly plans. Access will be offered to ISPs, too.