Steve Alexander: Minneapolis Wi-Fi may be done in weeks

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 23, 2008 - 1:11 AM
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Bill Witzany of US Internet Wireless installed a relay node in Minneapolis in October.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Minneapolis should be green by late February, but it won't have anything to do with grass or trees.

Instead it will mean a completed city Wi-Fi network providing high-speed Internet access. Right now, green areas on a city map created by network builder US Internet show where Wi-Fi service is available. (Go to www.startribune.com/a3908 and click on "order wireless service." Don't be confused by a related map of the build-out schedule, available on another US Internet Web page, that uses a different color scheme.) By late February, the whole city will be green, said Joe Caldwell, the marketing vice president.

As of last week, the company had about 10 square miles of the network left to complete out of a total coverage area of about 59 square miles, or the entire land area of Minneapolis, Caldwell said. Consumers can expect to receive marketing information from US Internet as their areas go green.

Several technical and construction-related problems (antenna coverage, foliage barriers, delay related to the 35W bridge collapse and electrical installation issues) have delayed the project, which originally was to have been done before the end of 2007.

The latest difficulty has been city light poles that can't supply enough electricity to Wi-Fi access points mounted on the poles, Caldwell said. The problem poles have intermittent power because the street lights and their electricity supply go off in daylight.

Normally, the problem would be fixed by adding new electric wires to underground conduits serving the poles. But many of the conduits have cracked and filled with water, which means they're filled with ice that prevents new wiring from being added, Caldwell said. The ice situation has required US Internet to either run overhead power lines to those poles or rearrange other Wi-Fi hotspots to provide coverage, he said.

"Murphy's law ['If anything can go wrong, it will'] has applied all along the way," Caldwell said. "But we should be done by the third week of February."

Q I've stored some of your columns on my PC for future reference but have trouble finding a particular topic when I need it. Does StarTribune.com have an index to search your columns?

BOB BUSCH, EDINA

A StarTribune.com lets you search for keywords but shows you every story containing them, not just my columns. I suggest you save the column Web pages on your PC, then search them for keywords using Google's (www.startribune.com/a3900) or Microsoft's (www. startribune.com/a3899) desktop search software.

Steve Alexander covers technology for the Star Tribune. E-mail your technology questions to tech@startribune.com or write Tech Q&A, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488-0002. Please include a full name, city and phone number.

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