Wireless technology in Greensboro

Disclaimer: I’m the Executive Director of a nonprofit called Phoenix Networks, and am operating as a 501c3 under my fiscal agent, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro. Mission of the nonprofit is to use wireless technologies to assist in educational value and economic growth. This post was in response to Ed Cone’s on local wireless.
I am part of a young professionals group called SynerG. This organization operates projects that they believe will help the community and the growth of Greensboro for young professionals and is an extension of Action Greensboro. One of my earliest involvements with this group has been the WiFi Initiative. This post should give you a glimpse of what is currently in place and what we need as a community to change.


Greensboro Wireless and Phoenix Networks
A little on Greensboro’s on wireless initiatives. When SynerG came up with the WiFi initiative, I was but a mere technical advisor. My professional realm places me in cellular infrastructure, and my college research involved WiFi and embedded technologies so it was not a far-fetched fit. It just happened that I also had launched my own tiny nonprofit to help with wireless initiatives within the local communities.
WiFi consisted of multiple phases. First was to take Center City Park and make it wireless. That was done via ITT-S and Time Warner Cable Business Services locally, with money from the Future Fund. Phase II (currently in progress) is to light up between Washington St. to Natty Greene’s on Elm Street. We call this the Elm Street corridor phase. This is being funded by Community Foundation and Weaver Foundation. All of this technology is done via enterprise edition WiFi and the second phase is directly in correlation with Phoenix Networks (launch date not set yet). And in case some people have heard about the city’s Tropos network, we do have a public safety WiFi network installed but that is not for community use and I agree with the city’s stance.
A little bit on Phoenix Networks’ TWIN (Triad Wireless Intercommunity Network) project. While the first phase was supposed to be a commercial RFP project, the second phase of WiFi started to stray from this ideal. I believed that to get the community involvement would increase the technological advocacy in the region. Unfortunately businesses and the community is not very technologically oriented nor are they behind the wireless projects like in Seattle, Portland, or Southern California. In regards, I’m re-thinking my strategies in how to become a city of wireless first adopters by strengthening wireless technology advocacy.
Why is municipal wireless is not for Greensboro nor any other city?
Don’t get me wrong. I think that municipal wireless is fantastic. But all of this talk about Philadelphia and other larger cities looking to unwire just makes me laugh at the wasted funding behind this. WE as first adopters should be stepping away from this antiquated technology. Greensboro in itself needed something to build upon to push technology advocacy and thus the WiFi Initiative. Philadelphia with their Three Rivers Connect project should not even be considering WiFi for the backend. EVER.
So why? Why am I against this? Let’s put some dates on this technology and why nonprofits have been using this technology but those that don’t understand the wireless (municipalities) are pushing for it currently. WiFi (802.11b) was ratified as a protocol in 1997. I did research on 802.11b in 1999. In about 2000, Seattle Wireless got started. If you look at bandwagon, Philly is dragging behind the wagon. And all of this is assuming they’re still justifying WiFi backhaul costs. On top of this, many municipalities want to push it as a utility cost to the citizens. Wireless is a want, not a need. I need electricity, water, and sewer to survive in an urban environment. Wireless is just an amenity. Failure to realize this is the fault of governmental officials that do not understand business versus government practices.
First Adopter wireless technologies
WiMax and other technologies such as the Motorola Canopy system, or 802.11n (soon to be pushed through) have been in the works or already in place for some time. We should be looking to new technologies to become a technologically advanced community. These are the times that young professionals have to step up and rennovate Greensboro into a similar stance on wireless advocacy as cities with ten times the population. Dartmouth College is already streaming their phone systems and now television over wireless as first adopters. Jealous? Definitely. But I think i’s possible to do it here also.
Conclusion
As I’ve said before, the local foundations have been instrumental and those of us as wireless pushers could not have done it without them. But its time that we stand on our own two feet and seek out corporations that do this and get them involved. Sprint is bringing WiMax as a secondary data network that will eventually take over the cellular data side. Clearwire is coming to Greensboro for pre-WiMax consumer wireless. And this is not including all of the local companies that are involved in wireless technologies.
I would love to have businesses behind this just as Portland has had and other major cities. Even municipal wireless doesn’t sound half bad at times seeing how difficult it is to get corporations involved (present corporations involvement excluded). I have even heard of offers in the background to bring a proposal to city council. In the end, this is up to the community to decide, and even technology advocates as myself can only do so much. If you want to drive Greensboro into the next decade with wireless technology, then help by getting businesses involved, climbing rooftops to install equipment, do the basic barn raising type events to show your support. We need to start becoming first adopters of new technologies like Dartmouth College instead of sitting back in the late 90s like Philadelphia.
You want to help? Step up to the plate.

  • Hi Ben,
    Just trying to understand your position. You are calling for businesses to get involved but also advocate volunteers climbing buildings to help install equipment. What’s the end product? Free wireless access funded by foundations and/or the city or would people pay for access? Who pays?

  • Hi Ben,
    Just trying to understand your position. You are calling for businesses to get involved but also advocate volunteers climbing buildings to help install equipment. What’s the end product? Free wireless access funded by foundations and/or the city or would people pay for access? Who pays?

  • Seattle Wireless and such projects are community oriented. Bandwidth donated by businesses, community set up.
    I would assume that in answer to your question, businesses pay for it.
    Either that or we could go straight corporate sponsorships. That works also, although not as community oriented. Either way, I’m still climbing rooftops.
    Yes, the money has to come from somewhere. But as a tax writeoff for businesses, I don’t see the harm in them participating in such a project.
    And no, I am against city paying for access or having the local city government involved in any sort of money form. If they help behind the scenes with roofrights, that works for me, but otherwise…

  • darkmoon

    Seattle Wireless and such projects are community oriented. Bandwidth donated by businesses, community set up.
    I would assume that in answer to your question, businesses pay for it.
    Either that or we could go straight corporate sponsorships. That works also, although not as community oriented. Either way, I’m still climbing rooftops.
    Yes, the money has to come from somewhere. But as a tax writeoff for businesses, I don’t see the harm in them participating in such a project.
    And no, I am against city paying for access or having the local city government involved in any sort of money form. If they help behind the scenes with roofrights, that works for me, but otherwise…

  • Sue

    There are a variety of ways to pay for the wireless Internet; businesses can share their off-peak (lack of) usage and providers can simply provide it so it’s more stable. I think Ben might mean the second one about stepping up; provide the bandwidth for free or for a significantly reduced cost.
    In the short-term, guys like Ben climb buildings, get roof-rights, and get funded by foundations for equipment. “Technology community activism” means finding more Bens (yeah, right!), researching new community projects like TWIN, and getting on board with Clearwire right out of the gate.
    This really isn’t something that foundations can do for the long term. They are showing GSO what it can be like and now the business community, the city (those “public/private partnerships”) need to think out of the router and into our geography.
    We offer incentives to businesses. Why aren’t we asking for wireless for downtown (for starters) as a precursor of other incentive deals?

  • Sue

    There are a variety of ways to pay for the wireless Internet; businesses can share their off-peak (lack of) usage and providers can simply provide it so it’s more stable. I think Ben might mean the second one about stepping up; provide the bandwidth for free or for a significantly reduced cost.
    In the short-term, guys like Ben climb buildings, get roof-rights, and get funded by foundations for equipment. “Technology community activism” means finding more Bens (yeah, right!), researching new community projects like TWIN, and getting on board with Clearwire right out of the gate.
    This really isn’t something that foundations can do for the long term. They are showing GSO what it can be like and now the business community, the city (those “public/private partnerships”) need to think out of the router and into our geography.
    We offer incentives to businesses. Why aren’t we asking for wireless for downtown (for starters) as a precursor of other incentive deals?

  • Still not clear on the scenario you are proposing, Ben.
    I agree that we want next-generation technology. And corporate input would be great…but who drives that initiative? Action GSO seems a logical candidate to me.

  • Still not clear on the scenario you are proposing, Ben.
    I agree that we want next-generation technology. And corporate input would be great…but who drives that initiative? Action GSO seems a logical candidate to me.

  • I’m fine with Action Greensboro or SynerG driving the initiative. But I think we need to start moving away from local money if possible. The movers and shakers keep talking about WiFi hotzones and municipal wireless, but in my opinion that’s not the issue.
    We need to concentrate on fist adopting and corporate backing. SynerG can drive, and local foundations can surely support but only for so long. I’ve been in the “vehicle” for about two years now and I think it’s time that we start looking past the foundations (although I’m not swearing them off by any means). I just feel like I’ve been tapping a wonderful resource, but they won’t be there forever and others should really come together to pick up where the foundations leave off when they do.

  • darkmoon

    I’m fine with Action Greensboro or SynerG driving the initiative. But I think we need to start moving away from local money if possible. The movers and shakers keep talking about WiFi hotzones and municipal wireless, but in my opinion that’s not the issue.
    We need to concentrate on fist adopting and corporate backing. SynerG can drive, and local foundations can surely support but only for so long. I’ve been in the “vehicle” for about two years now and I think it’s time that we start looking past the foundations (although I’m not swearing them off by any means). I just feel like I’ve been tapping a wonderful resource, but they won’t be there forever and others should really come together to pick up where the foundations leave off when they do.

  • Sue

    synerG can drive for a while, but as you note, the foundations are not the long-term solution for a civic-private partnership need. The city benefits from a wireless zone; the city will have to take over the steering wheel if this is going to succeed.
    Private interest and investment will also be required but someone has to start with an education campaign as to why we want this. The city – if it wants me to use my credit card in a parking garage – needs to start advertising what else I can do with wireless infrastructure.
    I’m sure TW has something to say about it, too.
    So… getting some cute wireless areas in town is a great benefit. Not having corporate backing is just plain out of date and makes Greensboro appear out of touch.
    I’d love to hear Mitchell Johnson’s priority list and where this item falls on it because nowhere in Greenville did I hear the city worked to provide wireless Internet in their very nice downtown.
    Unless there’s a burning need voiced for it, we’re not going to get it. The city needs to do its part on this one and let us all know how much $$ we’d save and effort we’d not put out if we had all of GSO wired or tapped into the glass under the streets.

  • Sue

    synerG can drive for a while, but as you note, the foundations are not the long-term solution for a civic-private partnership need. The city benefits from a wireless zone; the city will have to take over the steering wheel if this is going to succeed.
    Private interest and investment will also be required but someone has to start with an education campaign as to why we want this. The city – if it wants me to use my credit card in a parking garage – needs to start advertising what else I can do with wireless infrastructure.
    I’m sure TW has something to say about it, too.
    So… getting some cute wireless areas in town is a great benefit. Not having corporate backing is just plain out of date and makes Greensboro appear out of touch.
    I’d love to hear Mitchell Johnson’s priority list and where this item falls on it because nowhere in Greenville did I hear the city worked to provide wireless Internet in their very nice downtown.
    Unless there’s a burning need voiced for it, we’re not going to get it. The city needs to do its part on this one and let us all know how much $$ we’d save and effort we’d not put out if we had all of GSO wired or tapped into the glass under the streets.

  • Scott

    The City of Greensboro is running dark fiber to all stoplights at all intersections pulled back to the city’s center. It could easilly allow select interections to have WiFi units installed in those little traffic switch boxes. Throttle a little bandwidth already paid for at the library and voila, you’ve got a city-wide wireless network.
    The library provides internet access and a computer to use it. Installing a wireless router in the library makes sense. And if that signal bled into the street, that’s a free public wireless network that can even piggy-back on the child-safe filters already used at the library. So it wouldn’t be much more of a stretch to link a few more WiFi devices using some of that fiber running all over the place.
    This was originally proposed and Mitchell Johnson didn’t want anything to do with it. Too bad. Imagine the image a city-wide fiber optic WiFi network would bring.

  • Scott

    The City of Greensboro is running dark fiber to all stoplights at all intersections pulled back to the city’s center. It could easilly allow select interections to have WiFi units installed in those little traffic switch boxes. Throttle a little bandwidth already paid for at the library and voila, you’ve got a city-wide wireless network.
    The library provides internet access and a computer to use it. Installing a wireless router in the library makes sense. And if that signal bled into the street, that’s a free public wireless network that can even piggy-back on the child-safe filters already used at the library. So it wouldn’t be much more of a stretch to link a few more WiFi devices using some of that fiber running all over the place.
    This was originally proposed and Mitchell Johnson didn’t want anything to do with it. Too bad. Imagine the image a city-wide fiber optic WiFi network would bring.

  • Umm.. they already have WiFi at all the lights. They’re running a Tropos network for public safety.
    I heard that WiFi at the libraries will be provided by Clearwire. Not definite though, but it’s amusing that they’re going in that direction.
    The fiber ring itself that the city uses is actually leased. While people aren’t supposed to know about it, it’s a fiber ring that was constructed strictly for city use. Not exactly sure what they use it for, since there’s not that much traffic you could be running on that from my pov, but whatever.

  • darkmoon

    Umm.. they already have WiFi at all the lights. They’re running a Tropos network for public safety.
    I heard that WiFi at the libraries will be provided by Clearwire. Not definite though, but it’s amusing that they’re going in that direction.
    The fiber ring itself that the city uses is actually leased. While people aren’t supposed to know about it, it’s a fiber ring that was constructed strictly for city use. Not exactly sure what they use it for, since there’s not that much traffic you could be running on that from my pov, but whatever.