Saturday, August 14, 2004

Hermosa Beach: Free WiFi Internet for Many!

update: This is turning out to be a resounding success.

Our city has deployed Wireless Internet for its residents, scheduled to be rolled out in phases, this first phase covering about 35% of the population, according to the press release.

I'm not sure the signal is reaching my house quite yet but this is very exciting. I'll likely be sauntering around the Pier area over the weekend and make my first blog entry from a free broadband connection!

This project is the brainchild of Council Member and former Mayor Michael Keegan. Keegan, a successful entrepreneur, has had very interesting ideas on absorbing costs, the most obvious ones being related to advertisements on the home page, the more interesting ones revolving around educating local businesses on leveraging this local network to better connect with prospective customers, while enlisting their sponsorships. offers a good insight into similar efforts substantiated around the globe.

I think this movement is big. As various connectivity models and associated technical and business blueprints are put together from efforts such as this one, we're looking at a much lower barrier to entry to setting-up Internet broadband infrastructures.

Community wireless networks such as this one open the door to many things:

1) Internet access for all, limited in speed and quantity by the amount of bandwidth offered by the "backbone" that links our little wireless community to the Internet. This "backbone" is typically provided in the form of "T1" and/or "T3" lines by some of the major telco companies, and the amount of bandwidth used is typically billed to the customer (in our case, the City of Hermosa Beach) on a monthly basis. Once the infrastructure equipment has been paid for, this "backbone" usage is a key permanent ongoing cost the city must absorb, which shouldn't be too difficult.

High speed Internet connectivity opens a wider door to typical uses: ultra fast web browsing, ultra fast email. The other obvious use is "Voice over IP", aka, VoIP, aka "telephone over the internet". While an exciting prospect, we, as a community, should be mindful of not driving our "backbone" costs too high with too much VoIP usage. It is, after all, a shared resource.

But "internet traffic" only needs to go thru our "backbone" if, and only if, our computer attempts to communicate with a computer outside of our local community. This is where it gets really frickin' cool:

2) Virtually unlimited, superfast, unbridled use of our "local" network. The speed and usage of our "local" network is only limited by the amount of traffic that can be handled by our local Wireless Community equipment, without driving costs up: we own the equipment that makes up our local network. When would your machine throw a lot of a traffic at the local network? Simple: when "calling-up" someone. VoIP is, of course, the most obvious aspect. But companies such as Apple coming-up with "insanely great" software such as: iChat AV are also painting an exciting picture, particularly with regards to Video Conferencing. This is already being done over the Internet, across various ends of the globe, but keeping things "local" should make the whole experience a whole lot more exciting and cheaper for all parties involved.

Hermosa Beach businesses ought to look for companies that would host their web sites "inside" the "local" Hermosa Beach network, for faster access for their local customers at dramatic costs savings, on-top of retaining seamless access from the Internet at large. The key is to leverage your local community network and ensure people who seek to communicate with you, do so from within the local network, without going to the Internet thru the backbone and back inside.

Example: I have EarthLink DSL connectivity. My neighbor also has DSL. If I want to "give them a call" using VoIP, my computer will be sending data to the Internet thru my ISP, at an upstream speed of 128Kbps, at which point my ISP will find his ISP, relay packets all the way back down to him. If instead, we both belong to the same community network, we benefit from far higher speeds and lower latency which result in much higher call quality, and further enables the use of Video.

Possibilities are endless. Think of a new era of telecommunications.

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