Wi-Fi pilot successful

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Austin Utilities is feeling confident in its late October timeline for citywide wireless, saying Tuesday that the equipment is almost fully installed in the first pilot region and, so far, performing well.

“Our end of October deadline is still looking pretty good,” Austin Utilities general manager Jerry McCarthy said, adding that the service will be available for sale as pilots are completed in each local quadrant.

The $1.2 million wireless project has endured setbacks since the utility board committed to bids with contractor Arinc Inc. last fall.

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The latest included transmitter performance; the signals weren’t powerful enough to overcome leaf growth this spring, leading to a new set of more expensive equipment currently under installation.

That process continues, according to McCarthy, who said transmitters are secured on most poles, as well as Sumner Elementary School and Austin High School, the northwest region of town.

The pilot encompasses a square-mile of downtown property from Oakland Avenue to Fourth Street Northwest.

McCarthy said he expects a crane to help crews with transmitters on Austin’s water tower, which will allow Arinc to conclude its preliminary testing and set the stage for service checks through the rest of the month.

“The signals are so much stronger on the new equipment, it’s not even comparable,” he said.

McCarthy said the pilots will be phased into other areas of town, with the southwest quadrant to take place next. Eventually, the city will have a total of 425 access points.

Once service is established and continuous, it will be offered for sale by Austin-based Southern Minnesota Internet Group, McCarthy said.

Austin Utilities support services director Kim Duncomb said that the utility company is taking names from those interested in participating in the pilot project, which they, in turn, pass to SMIG.

Prices have not yet been determined.

Arinc had initially proposed an earlier deadline that would have made the system operational by December 2007. They have partnered with Blue Moon Internet Corp. for assistance with equipment installation.