Mich. city wireless network delayed

Local broadband service expected to be in place next year

Grand Rapid Press (Michigan) 
GRAND RAPIDS — The dream of a citywide broadband wireless network is not dead, it's just behind schedule, a city official said Monday.

In December, Clearwire Corp. said it hoped to have a local network up and running in 2007. City officials now say they expect Clearwire to begin offering service sometime in the first half of 2008.

Clearwire, the Kirkland, Wash.-based company that signed a contract to blanket the city with a high-speed wireless network, is making progress, said Sally Wesorick, wireless project manager for the city.

But company officials are not making predictions about when they will turn on the network, she said.

"I just have very general statements," Wesorick said of Clearwire's timetable. "They have been moving forward. We have been having regular progress meetings right along."

Clearwire spokesmen have declined to comment, citing company policy.

Nonetheless, Wesorick said she is confident Clearwire will deliver on its promise to make Grand Rapids the first city in which it will offer high-speed mobile broadband access on a citywide basis.

When Clearwire arrives, Grand Rapids will not have the typical broadband "WiFi" network offered in other cities.

Instead, the company will install an emerging wireless technology called "WiMax."

Unlike WiFi, in which signals typically extend only several hundred feet, "WiMax" is based on a stronger signal and can be transmitted over several miles, similar to cell phone signals.

On the downside, the computer cards and transmitters required to handle WiMax signals still are being developed by Motorola and Intel, Clearwire's WiMax partners.

To accommodate local users who don't upgrade their computers, Clearwire's contract calls for it to offer localized WiFi "hot spots" scattered throughout the city.

Though Clearwire uses WiMax technology in more than 30 markets, Grand Rapids will be the first city to offer WiMax for citywide mobile use, according to Roberta Wiggins, a marketing consultant with Yankee Group.

City officials said they chose Clearwire's WiMax system because it was the best technology to deliver broadband signals to police officers and firefighters throughout the city.

The city's contract calls for Clearwire to swap its service for access to the city's water towers and antenna sites. Clearwire also has agreed to offer discounted service to low-income residents who qualify.  

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