TORONTO — The City of Fredericton, rubbing shoulders with enterprise giants such as Bombardier, Bell and Dell, took home the Judges’ Innovation Award at the recent Canadian Information Productivity Awards for its city-wide

Wi-Fi network, dubbed Fred e-Zone. Although a few other Canadian communities

also offer municipally hosted wireless networks, the New Brunswick capital is the first to offer such services for free — a concept most people still don’t quite trust, according to Fredericton IT manager Maurice Gallant. “”Some people say to us, ‘Free? What does that mean?'”” said Gallant. “”Come to Fredericton: you’ll see it really is free.””

The city currently has 110 Cisco 802.11g access points to provide connectivity via Wi-Fi-enabled notebooks or PDAs in a variety of public areas.

“”We’ve got about 40 per cent of the city covered,”” Gallant said. “”We’re trying to guess where people are likely to open a notebook so we get the biggest hit for our buck.””

Fredericton’s city council has provided $150,000 for the first phase of the project. Gallant expects it will approve another $300,000 for the next phase, slated for completion by the end of 2006. “”Sure, you’ll be able to find a place where there is no coverage, but the experience we want to give you is you’ll always be connected,”” said Gallant, who is also president of e-Novations ComNet Inc., the not-for-profit municipally owned corporation licensed as a non-dominant carrier by the CRTC.

The project kicked off in 2000 when the municipal government started to look for cost-efficient ways to provide broadband connectivity to its 650 employees in 20 locations. At that time, affordable and widely available service didn’t exist in the region, said Gallant, so the city decided to take matters into its own hands, building a 22-km fibre optic community network, which it extended using Motorola Canopy long-distance wireless technology deployed through access points hosted on seven towers.

Mike Richards, vice-president of operations for e-Novations, said finding the right partners was key to the project. “”A lot of the vendors did not see or agree with our vision,”” he says. “”In fact, some we approached said, ‘it won’t work, it’s not designed for that, what are you doing,’ and the vendors we’re working with now all share the same vision.””

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