The Saskatchewan government has announced a plan to create what it called the country’s largest wireless Internet network, which will allow the province’s four largest cities’ residents and visitors to access free-of-charge Wi-Fi in the downtown core and post-secondary institutions.
Two-hundred-fifty access points (approximately one per block) will boost business travel to the province, according to Richard Murray, the executive director of policy and planning for the Government of Saskatchewan’s Information Technology Office. Local businesses will also get a boost, as Wi-Fi will be offered in certain business districts in Regina and Saskatoon.
One of the main drivers of this initiative, said Murray, was the recent Youth Summit in Saskatoon, where the youths clamoured for free Wi-Fi. He said that it is a government priority to attract and retain youth in the province.
Frost & Sullivan’s industry analyst for the mobile communications group, Eduardo Kibel, said the network is a savvy business move on the government’s part, as it will boost the cities’ high-tech credentials and streamline business practices.
“It’s very good for the economy,” he said. An added bonus is the opportunity to encourage doing things online that were formerly done through a real-world government agency.
“It will make people more productive,” he said. “They can do everything from renew their driver’s licence to register their child. It will improve efficiency and the quality of life.” Such a strategy is becoming increasingly common, according to IDC Canada analyst Lawrence Surtees, who said that the announcement is further evidence of using Wi-Fi to improve connectivity.
The government will be partnering with SaskTel on this initiative, and has a speedy implementation schedule.
Murray said that he is confident that the free Wi-Fi should be ready come May or June of this year, as it is getting started right away. “Wi-Fi is a pretty known technology,” according to Murray. “All you have to do is mount your access points on your poles and you’re up and running.”
The cost of the project is $1.3 million, with annual operating costs of $339,000. “The area it covers is very small, with a population one-fifth the size of Toronto. They won’t reach maximum capacity like they do (in Toronto),” said Kibel.
Surtees said that both the price and ease of implementation could be attributed to the type of network.