FREDERICTON — The City of Fredericton announced Tuesday its plans to create a free Wi-Fi network for residents and businesses.

The first phase of the project will see the downtown core and the Greater Fredericton Airport wired for 802.11g access. The city hopes to have 40 nodes installed by the end of November and 60 in total by the new year. Cisco Systems Inc. will build the system, called the Fred-eZone, on the city’s fibre optic backbone.

Maurice Gallant, manager of information technology for the city, said the decision to build on the 802.11g standard was made because it’s the culmination of the a and b standards and is backwards compatible. The maximum data rate is 54 Mbps.

While Gallant doesn’t know how many people in Fredericton have the hardware to access the network, he isn’t worried about an immediate flood or every business in town jumping on the system.

“”Wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have? Wouldn’t it be phenomenal if every business in town was using this sort of infrastructure to better their business to be more competitive,”” Gallant said.

“”The reality is, though, that we see this as complementary to existing technology and not a replacement. We don’t think people in their homes or their businesses are going to drop their usual services. What this means is when they leave those businesses they’re still connected.””

“”Our goal is not to intrude on anyone else’s space, but to drive usage and drive demand and ultimately create more business for everyone,”” added Don Fitzgerald, executive director of Team Fredericton.

There is, however, a potential issue with existing wireless networks. Gallant said they’ve already encountered this, but the city has the ability to dial back its range to avoid coverage conflicts.

“”We’re early enough off the mark that we’re not going to run into to many of these situations,”” Gallant said.

As far as security is concerned, Gallant said it will be working with the University of New Brunswick and the National Research Council (NRC) to develop whatever means necessary to prevent abuse.

Fitzgerald said he envisions the network expanding to include the local IT park, some of the malls, the hospital and the two high schools. While the service is a bonus to residents, it has the potential to attract people and business to the area, arguing bright people follow innovation.

Frost & Sullivan Wi-Fi analyst Wai Sing Lee said selecting 802.11g was a good choice given its speed, backwards compatibility and ease of implementation. He said each node should support about 100 users, but didn’t know of any public access points that have more than about 25 simultaneous users.

“”If it (the standard) was difficult you wouldn’t be hearing about every city from Fredericton to Long Beach, Calif., doing it,”” Lee said.

Garth Scully, a regional director with Cisco Systems Canada, said Fredericton is on the leading edge of development in the wireless area and he is unaware of any other community in Canada engaged in a similar project

“”Team Fredericton is using technology to provide real, tangible benefits to citizens, businesses and government workers. This is a forward thinking approach that will drive economic development,”” Scully said.

Christian Couturier is the director of Atlantic research programs for the NRC Institute for Information Technology. He said Fredericton has the building blocks in place to support a growing knowledge industry.

“”We can genuinely enhance our social and economic impact through innovation,”” Couturier said.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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