Wireless network key area of bond issue

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 21, 2008


One of the key components to the $12.3 million bond issue coming up for a vote Tuesday is information technology,which includes an envisioned wireless network in a 2-mile radius around Selma City Hall.

Mayor James Perkins Jr. said Tuesday night during a question-and-answer session that the city would limit the wireless technology initially to the police department and City Hall. He anticipates mobile micro-computers in police cars to keep officers in touch with the station and on the road.

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The total information technology portion of the bond issue is $3,106,000, and $2.1 million of that will be spent on wireless infrastructure interior and exterior.

Perkins explained Tuesday night that the high-speed computer connection would include fiber and wireless. A fiber connection is a general term used to cover the physical media types, such as optical fiber and coaxial cable. Wireless or Wi-Fi is the radio-based system that allows transmission of information without a physical connection.

Once the city works its network, then if the Selma City Council chooses, the public might subscribe for a fee, Perkins said. The wireless network is expected to extend about 2 miles from City Hall.

Wireless access for residents is common in larger cities across the nation. Anaheim , Calif. was the first major city in the U.S. to offer wireless Internet access to its 300,000 residents. Anaheim is just 28 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

In 2006, Austin, Texas hosted the World Congress on Information Technology and prepared a wireless network around the city&8217;s convention center to cover a seven-block area.

The type of wireless network used by most cities is called a &8220;wireless mesh.&8221; It operates through a series of antennas attached to buildings. The quality of reception of this kind of wireless network depends on the location of the computer to the repeater and the number of users on the system.

City officials have pointed to Prichard as one city that has a wireless network. The information technology director for the South Alabama city, Lee Stockton, said the area has yet to go wireless, but the city is planning for the future.

Currently, city officials in Prichard want to link various departments not located in the same building through a fiber network and eventually move toward a wireless connection. The city has a fiber ring around it, placed there by Southern Light, Stockton said.

The city must lay enough fiber, about 1/4 mile, to connect to the ring. Cost estimates have that running about $125 to $100 a foot, but the city and Southern Light have worked an agreement to trade the fiber for police escorts at night for company workers.

Prichard hasn&8217;t advanced as far as creating wireless connections for its residents. &8220;I haven&8217;t talked to the mayor about that,&8221; said Stockton. &8220;Not fully yet.&8221;

One city of about 20,000 people offers wireless connections to businesses and residents. That&8217;s Chaska, Minn., which has operated a mesh wireless network for nearly four years.

Chaska officials partnered with several businesses in the area, including Time Warner Telecommunications to piggyback off the existing fiber optics in the area. For about $750,000, in 2004, Chaska bought the repeaters and set up the wireless network.

Now, it connects customers to a system that, depending on the distance from the antennas and number of people using the system, is about as fast as cable or DSL. The cost to residents of the city is $16.99 a month. Businesses may get a faster T1 connection for $25.99 a month. About a tenth of the city&8217;s population subscribes to the Internet through the city&8217;s network.