Working Anywhere With Wicked Fast Wi-Fi

By Stephanie Blanchard, Digital Editor & Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — March 26, 2013

One in five professionals will take a business trip in the next six months, says the U.S. Travel Association, and nearly half of the American workforce works remote part of the time. Leading cities that are hubs for business and higher education are becoming more user-friendly to attract and support the mobile workforce, not to mention high-tech companies.

These initiatives also play into the predicted rise of the “Internet of Things.” Take, for instance, the tech capital of Silicon Valley—San Jose —there’s something different in the downtown area by City Hall: faster Wi-Fi. Much faster. So fast, it’s “wicked” — according to the CIO.  

For example, a smartphone user can see speeds of two to three megabits per second, much faster than the usual public networks. This free and fast wireless enables anyone in the downtown to easily browse the web or download  data.

“We called it ‘wickedly fast’ to be non-government-esque - to create a little buzz, and a brand,” said acting Chief Information Officer Vijay Sammeta, City of San Jose, in an interview with Mobile Enterprise.

The upgrade was installed in response to requests from city departments to increase the area’s wireless capacity. At first, the IT department was not convinced they needed a new network, strictly due to economics and the fact they have seen “models come and go.”

“When we started looking at it from an expenditure perspective, and staff involvement, it made more sense to go out for an RFP (request for proposal),” Sammeta said. He and his team looked at services to underwrite the community network and when they discovered there would be no maintenance cost change between the old and new network ($22K annually), along with only a $94K initial outlay, the decision to upgrade was a “no brainer.”

San Jose partnered with SmartWAVE Technologies, systems integrator, and Ruckus Wireless, Inc., access point provider, to deploy the network. The project was funded through parking revenue and the city’s General Fund.

The project’s challenge was with coordinating departments and working around the construction that was going on downtown. “At the end of the day, it was all worth it with what we accomplished,” he said, adding that the city will see “ROI very quickly” — within a couple of years at most.

The network is also being used for M2M, speeding up the city’s park and pay kiosks, and on the enterprise side, enhancing communication between departments and other municipal responsibilities.

Google Invests
Over in Cambridge, MA, the place for free, outside Wi-Fi access is Harvard Square. 

In 2008, the Harvard Square Business Association (HSBA) worked with the city to launch a network to accommodate millions of annual visitors. Obviously, during the last five years, there has been a significant increase in mobile device users. In response, the HSBA decided to install an upgrade, which was completed at the end of February.

“As a society, we have come to expect public Wi-Fi,” said Denise Jillson, Executive Director of the Harvard Square Business Association. “Our association directors and officers believe that it is no longer a luxury, but view it as a necessity. It should be as readily available as electricity and cell phone service.”

Using Aerohive technology, the Association contracted with One World WiFi, who installed Aerohive AP170 802.11 a/b/g/n devices in wireless access points across the Square.

The project was conducted in partnership with the city of Cambridge, Harvard University, and association members, many of whom allow access to rooftops and basements. Google, who has offices in Kendall Park, also invested in the project.

I Love NY
GOWEX now offers free WiFi in New York, thanks to a significant deployment of 1.953 WiFi smart zones around the biggest neighborhoods of the city. This will enable the almost 20 million residents and 52 million tourists, to have free Internet access in hundreds of hotspots spread between Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Bronx.

In January, Google announced free Wi-Fi to about 20 city blocks in the Chelsea neighborhood, home to Google’s second largest office. At that time, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted that 20 city parks already offered free Wi-Fi and that the service would extend to 32 others by September 2013.

Risky Business
This "free" offering might seem simple enough, but in many metropolis', the publicly funded projects start out with good intentions and actually fail. Seattle, for example, had to discontinue its free Wi-Fi in April 2012, citing high maintenance costs. Philadelphia, after partnering with Earthlink and investing tens of millions of dollars, also had to pull the plug on its program back in 2008.

In addition, with mobile malware on the rise, and typically unsecure public access points increasingly the target of hackers , the risk can be greater than the benefits.

A study around BYOD, conducted recently by a group of Cisco partner firms, found that 52% of respondents access unsecure Wi-Fi networks. The analyst firm the Ogren Group pointed out: “The ability to detect and characterize users and devices connecting to the network, and enforce security policies based on real-time assessments, is a huge benefit for enterprises requiring security and compliance for mobile users.”

Overall, this connectivity is good news for the mobile worker and can be for the mobile enterprise, increasing productivity while on the road or out of the the four walls, so long as security is managed.


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