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Tempe, Ariz., Launches Citywide Wi-Fi

City officials in Tempe, Ariz. hosted a "Cutting the Wires" ceremony on Monday, marking the initial availability of Tempe's citywide wireless access network.

The WAZTempe (Wireless Access Zone Tempe) network, covering 40 square miles, provides Wi-Fi access to all local residents and businesses.

It also offers municipal services for Arizona State University personnel, as well as other city workers including police, fire and emergency, according to city officials.

Tempe officials selected NeoReach Wireless, a subsidiary of broadband provider MobilePro Corp. of Bethesda, Md., to deploy and manage the WAZTempe network.

The city then chose Strix Systems Inc., a player in the wireless mesh market, to provide the network's underlying technology, according to a representative.

"While many cities have announced their plans to deploy wireless mesh networks, our citywide deployment in Tempe is the first and largest of its kind to demonstrate not only the ability to provide data services to users, but advanced voice and video applications as well," Nan Chen, vice president of marketing at Strix, said in a statement.

"The WAZTempe network offers a variety of add-on services, such as virtual private networks, voice over IP, video and data combination that users can access through fixed or mobile networks," Chen added.

The network allows for nomadic roaming throughout Tempe and supports a wide range of wireless devices, including handheld, SIP-enabled products, such as Wi-Fi mobile phones and desktop, laptop and handheld computers.

Tempe officials decided upon Strix Systems to provide the WAZTempe network infrastructure, which consists of about 400 antennae and radio units, through the company's Access/One Network OWS (Outdoor Wireless System).

In addition, Strix has developed a radio that is pre-WiMax-ready. When WiMax technology matures, NeoReach will only have to replace cards within the radios rather than replace the entire network, according to company officials.

"Tempe is truly blazing the trail with border-to-border wireless Internet access," Mayor Hugh Hallman said in a statement. "Those who live, work and play in Tempe are the beneficiaries of this technology."

In terms of municipal services, "the city is using this technology to assist in [providing access for] everything from fire department to building inspectors," Karrie Rockwell, director of sales and marketing at NeoReach, told Ziff Davis Internet.

Tempe's tandem wireless community offers a separate network to give city workers secure and "always-on" Wi-Fi access. In addition, WAZTempe will provide several Wi-Fi-enabled laptops for installation in every police and fire vehicle in the city, according to the release.

"The network allows for a real-time work force within the city," Rockwell said.

Business models in this evolving industry differ. While some cities offer wireless access via utility companies and use tax dollars to deploy and manage the "free" service, others create wide-scale networks and then charge an access fee. NeoReach has decided to offer its Wi-Fi network to Tempe at no cost, the company said.

"We took the owner/operator approach, in which we take on capital investment, deploy and manage the network," Rockwell said. "We then take a wholesale turn, where we charge a fee for various retail partners and service providers to come in with bundles, data packages, phones … and offer them through the network, in turn providing for additional market competition."

NeoReach said it has completed the deployment of WAZTempe in five city zones. The company has installed about 100 Wi-Fi radios throughout the city. It expects to complete the installation of the remaining 400 to 500 radios by early next year.

The company said it also has a number of future projects still in the works, including one in neighboring Chandler, Ariz.

"We're working with Chandler to allow individuals from both cities to utilize each other's networks, creating the largest border-to-border contiguous network in the country," Rockwell said. "The final agreement will be signed in the next week or two and deployment will begin in Q1 of 2006."

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