Wi-Fi for Austin

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Cory Doctorow as he flew into Austin for the SXSW Interactive conference. Among his luggage, Cory lugged in a duffel bag full of wireless access points. He furtively scampered around the convention center, lighting up hotspots, so that SXSW attendees could have wireless Internet access.

This is a civic embarrassment. Why do we need a guest from San Francisco coming in to light up our convention center? Sure, the SXSW coordinators could have rented wireless access for some obscene price. A year ago, the convention center employees were yelling at SXSW attendees to unplug their laptops from wall power. It appears they have mercifully gotten the clue about that stupid policy. Hopefully by the time SXSW rolls around next year, they will do the same for wireless Internet.

SXSW Interactive is over, Cory has gone home, and the convention center is dark again. For goodness sake, this city is supposed to be a frickin' high-tech mecca. People should be able to walk into the convention center and just get signal. Instead, they find themselves searching for a window so radio waves from some nearby access point leak in.

The volunteers of the Austin Wireless group are doing a good job promoting wireless access in Austin. That's not enough. The City needs to step up to the plate and exercise some leadership. I hope last night's presentation may start a dialog that leads to that.


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re: Wi-Fi for Austin

It all boils down to dollars, I suppose.

In a time where the city and state are both operating in the red, it'll be difficult to convince the City Council to either a) provide these services or b) provide incentives to companies that offer them.

I think you're right in saying that the only way to get Austin-wide WiFi access is to get the City involved. Please keep us posted to any new developments in this area, and don't keep quiet if there's anything we (and by we, I mean me) can do to help.

Since FlightPath had to close their back room, I've got no place to go to get some work done :-(.

re: Wi-Fi for Austin

Mando - One of the things that excites me so much about Wi-Fi is how much I think the city can do with very little money. I think we could get a ton of volunteers from Austin Wireless and elsewhere to rally behind good projects. All of the business executives I talk to are extremely supportive. What we need from the city, more than anything else, is not money, but leadership.

The City of Long Beach lit up their entire downtown. The expense to the city is just a few thousand dollars a year. Good stuff!

re: Wi-Fi for Austin

I heard from George Kelly of All About George that he got scolded for plugging in his laptop at the Convention Center *this* year. The idiocy (or, more likely, the extortion) continues.

re: Wi-Fi for Austin

Yeah, the convention center was charging $120 per outlet to use them. Very extortionate.

802.11b+g AP with DSL routers cost less than $150. Add another $50 each for some kind of weatherproof box. Assume each park would need two APs for good coverage. Install in 10 parks around town for $2000 in hardware, assuming you pay retail.

Run dry copper pairs from each box to wherever Austin's Internet exchange is--that should be cheap enough. You'll need DSL modems at the other end as intermediaries to the exchange.


Once you establish this in a few parks, see if neighborhood associations, local business associations, etc, will stump up the cash to set up similar APs in their neighborhoods.

More radical: use mesh APs, which cost $400, to create a lilypond-style mesh network that doesn't rely on a hard line to every AP, and hopscotches signals from one AP to the next. More expensive upfront, cheaper to maintain (at some cost to available bandwidth).


I've got yer brave new world right here, baby!

re: Wi-Fi for Austin

One opportunity for wireless deployment is the new library branch that is being planned for North Village. I attended a community design meeting about three weeks ago, and the subject of wireless was brought up. One of the facilitators said that he wanted to install wireless, as it would be more cost efficient than laying down the cabling conduits and other infrastructure, and has advocated for wireless in the past, but that he was always over-ruled.

My sense is that a small scale focused lobbying effort would be successful, as they are in the planning stages now for the library. Unfortunately, I don't know jack about wireless and would not make the best advocate. Let me know if you have ideas on who would.

re: Wi-Fi for Austin

I have been wandering around the convention center since before Cory got here and have not found a spot I could not connect at. I saw Cory come in with his APs and I was checking my mail with my Zaurus at that time. Cory has now gone along with his APs and I am sending this from a wireless laptop at the convention center.

So, what gives?

re: Wi-Fi for Austin

mike - What's the SSID? I'm wondering if the Wi-Fi Texas folks are running something inside the Convention Center. I'm told they've got 6th Street lit up for SXSW.

re: Wi-Fi for Austin

IC2 has initiated a study of wireless, specifically as it relates to economic and cultural development in Austin. The city and Austin Freenet are looking at wireless, Murray Freeman's doing installations, Rich MacKinnon has something going, Austin Wireless is gearing up to organize as a 501(c)3... lots happening. I'm involved with the IC2 project; we'll be scheduling a meeting with all the wireless stakeholders soon (so it'd help if everyone reading this could let me know who those stakeholders are, so we won't miss anybody). I think we can accomplish more if everybody's communicating and more knowledgeable of what others are doing.