Vendor group aids wireless urban renewals

Intel’s Digital Communities initiative

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A group of high-tech companies led by Intel have launched an international initiative to help provide wireless technology and applications for governments and communities.

Under the Digital Communities initiative, the companies are helping 13 communities design, develop and deploy Wi-Fi, mesh or other types of wireless networks and associated applications.

“Our vision…is as you unwire communities and layer on services and applications on top of it we think it should eventually make life better for people,” said Anand Chandrasekher, Intel’s vice president and director, Intel Sales and Marketing Group, during a conference call with reporters Aug. 18.

For example, in Taipei, Taiwan – which started creating a “cyber city” seven years ago – a public/private partnership is planning to establish the “first ever wireless city in the world,” Mayor Ying-jeou Ma said.

Ma said they’re planning to install 10,000 access points over 105 square miles in a city with a population of 2.6 million people. Ninety percent of the city – including subway stations – will be covered by the end of the year with the remaining completed by early 2006.

Ma said this would greatly enhance a resident’s way of life, such as using a laptop, personal digital assistant or cell phone to find out how long lines are at a government facility or watching television while waiting for a train.

However, he said the business model hasn’t been fully developed and there are some risks ahead.

“You know it’s not that difficult to have a wireless environment in a McDonald’s or Starbucks or a university, but if you want to cover a city of 2.6 million people that’s something not that easy,” he said.

The city is using a “build, operate and transfer” concept in which a private computer company is installing the access points on city infrastructure, such as light poles. Currently 35,000 people are using the system, with about 200 people being added every week. Ma said the city is not expending funds to install the infrastructure.

The program also includes proof of concept tests at other international cities, including Mangaratiba, Brazil, Dusseldorf, Germany, Gyor, Hungary, Jerusalem, Israel, Principality of Monaco, Seoul, South Korea, Osaka, Japan, and Westminster, United Kingdom. In the United States, Portland, Ore., Corpus Christi, Texas, Philadelphia and Cleveland are participating.

Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell said wireless applications for inspectors and repair personnel from the city’s building, housing and water departments. Additionally, she said the city is enhancing the ability of law enforcement personnel to use their mobile data terminals by providing such applications such as real-time video streaming, and notebook computers will let detectives can complete reports in the field.

Other applications include emergency room physicians guiding emergency medical technicians or firefighters through video or other methods as they treat patients in the field and developing computer applications for schools and recreation centers.

Chandrasekher said the number of cities could grow by 100 or more based on an educated guess. He said several cities, such as Taipei and Jerusalem, will test Wi-Max, but he did not provide any further details.

Beyond providing technology, Intel will advise cities on what could and can’t work as they develop their blueprints for wireless deployment and use, he said.

The consortium of companies include: Cisco, Dell, IBM, SAP, Accela, Airpath Wireless, Alvarion, British Telecom, CapGemini, CDW Government, Inc., Check Point, Civitium, EarthLink, iMove, Panasonic Computer Solutions Company, Pronto Networks, Szintezis Rt., Telindus, Tropos and Vertex.

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