A Victoria company will soon launch a free Wi-Fi service in British Columbia capital’s downtown area.
Signals from MCK Advance Technologies Ltd.’s several dozen antennas will also cover parts of Victoria suburbs, including Metchosin, Colwood and Langford, according to company co-founder Michael Chan.
The company is able to provide the service free downtown thanks to paying home Internet customers, Chan says.
Once someone signs up for MCK’s home wireless service, they will be given free wireless access downtown, which allows the company to offer it to even non-customers downtown.
“If those customers have free access, why not give everyone else free access?” Chan said. “That’s our philosophy.”
MCK plans to aggressively target potential home broadband customers of Shaw and Telus, the city’s two largest ISPs.
The service will be fast—and cheap.
Home wireless service from MCK will be half whatever Telus and Shaw are charging.
“If Telus is charging you $29, we’ll be 50 percent of that,” MCK’s Chan says.
(Last month, Telus was offering “lite” high-speed internet for $15.95 a month—but only if you subscribed to Telus’s long distance or cell phone service. Shaw’s “lite” Internet service costs $29.95 monthly, or $24.95 if you subscribe to basic cable.)
City taxpayers will also gain a small benefit from the service.
According to its agreement with the city, MCK is paying $250 for each antenna placed on a hydro pole, a one-time administration fee of $1,500, and an annual fee of two per cent of the project’s declared value. Most of the downtown antennas will be on hydro poles.
While Wi-Fi-equipped laptops will be able to access the Internet within 100 to 200 feet from the antennas, by using a high-power PCMIA card from MCK, the range will double. The card is expected to cost about $30, Chan said.
Two problems that have delayed Toronto Hydro’s plans for a Wi-Fi network in Canada’s largest city are not concerns in Victoria.
Police worries about internet crime in Toronto included the possibility that criminals would use the network to communicate with another, or to prey on minors.
But Victoria police chief Paul Battershill said that public Wi-Fi will be common before long.
“Realistically, we are going to see Wi-Fi in all cities,” Battershill said, via an e-mail message to ITBusiness.ca. “I think the challenge will be to be mindful of the possibility of abuse and pursue it properly if it happens.”
A different kind of security issue concerns hacking.
Asked about this, Chan said it will be easy to catch hackers by “triangulation.” Signals picked up from the user’s laptop at three different antennae permit the pinpointing of any user, he said.
“Our server can trace exactly where you are,” Chan said. “It’s easy to hack, but it’s also easy to catch you.”
Another initial concern in Toronto was the chance that the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the Wi-Fi antennas could be dangerous. Toronto Public Health is now satisfied that the system complies with radiation guidelines.
Chan said the signal is far too weak to cause problems.
Randy Ross, a radiation protection officer with the B.C. Centre For Disease Control in Vancouver, agreed.
According to Ross, Wi-Fi signals, though stronger than those used by cordless phones, are typically less powerful than those emitted by cell phone antennas.
The safe limit for Wi-Fi frequencies is one milliwatt per square centimeter, he said, and Wi-Fi signals are nowhere near that.
“If you’ve got an antenna and it’s sending out a signal that will reach all the way to Texas, then you’ve got a problem,” Ross said, adding that he has no concerns about Wi-Fi radiation.
The Victoria Wi-Fi service is expected to be operating within a few weeks, said Chan: “We want to offer the service before school starts.”