City sets up wireless as lifeline

City of Winston-Salem, N.C.

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After spending millions of dollars to develop the downtown commercial area of Winston-Salem, officials in the North Carolina city are setting up free wireless service to serve as a technology hook to attract young professionals and help the area thrive.

The new Wi-Fi system, which uses the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers 802.11b wireless local-area network protocol, should be operating within the next three months. It uses several Cisco Systems Inc. Aironet 350 wireless base stations hooked into an existing fiber-optic network to provide wireless access along the city's Fourth Street downtown hub.

The aim is to encourage people to come downtown and dine at sidewalk restaurants and cafes, knowing they can have continuous and free access to the Internet for laptops and personal digital assistants, said Dennis Newman, Winston-Salem's chief information officer.

There was no intensive study done before making the decision.

"It's an idea we had and we just went off and did it," he said. "It was by far the easiest sale we've made [for an IT venture]. People in government understood this was a minimal risk from an investment point of view and that it was being applied directly to the base we are hoping to attract."

However, he said, the low cost of installing the wireless system stems from the fact that the fiber backbone was already in place. It was then simply a matter of getting the city's Internet service provider to route access to the wireless system. The city also has the necessary information technology expertise in-house to manage the whole thing, Newman said.

It's possible that similar wireless access could be provided for other parts of the city.

"We've certainly had the requests," Newman said. "But it depends on where we feel we can make the best use of limited funds. We'll wait and see how this Fourth Street project goes first."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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