Mesh Wi-Fi Network Eases On-Site Debate Reporting

The Tropos network, set up by Tempe, Ariz.-based WazAlliance in a matter of days, uses an electric car with a mounted access point to help route wireless traffic. The creators expect about 3,000 journalists to use the network as they cover the third presi

When members of the media begin filing into Gammage Auditorium at Arizona State University in Tempe to report on Wednesday nights presidential debate, theyll find a new broadband wireless service waiting for them. And in fact, this service has been up and running for them for the past couple of days, so they can file their stories from hotels and coffee shops anywhere in downtown Tempe.

The reason for this sudden broadband access is a wireless mesh Wi-Fi network created by Tempe-based WazAlliance, a wireless service provider thats beginning a series of metro Wi-Fi installations at college campuses around the United States. "Its a pilot for many more locations," managing director Mike Nasco said. "We specialize in second- and third-tier locations such as college campuses," he said, adding that his company is looking for locations with tech-savvy users, such as Tempe.

The network was built in a matter of days. According to Nasco, the planning started in August, when discussion began on locations and dates for the debates.

"We specialize in covering huge areas with Wi-Fi at a low cost," said Ron Sege, CEO of Tropos Networks Inc., the company that builds the mesh networking equipment and which was heavily involved with the implementation. "We can set up two square miles per day," he said.

Sege said the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has designed its mesh networking equipment specifically for rapid deployment. "We rushed to get this in place for the debates," he said. Sege said one reason for the rush was because of the complaints by bloggers as well as members of the media over poor broadband access at the political conventions in Boston and New York this past summer. "It was terrible," Sege said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about bloggers coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

Actually putting the Tropos network in place is the easy part. As youd expect, most of the delay comes from dealing with the government. Sege said it took a couple of weeks to get approvals from the locality and get permission to mount the shoebox-sized Wi-Fi devices on street-lamp poles. Most of the devices simply pass information down the line over the wireless connection until they reach a wired access point. Sege said about one in 10 access points is actually connected to a wired network, usually a T1 or T3 line.

One feature that makes a big difference for covering special events with wireless connectivity is an electric vehicle that the WazAlliance brought in from Europe. The electric car powers a Tropos access point thats mounted on it. The car is then driven so that its in place at the location of the event. Because of the nature of mesh networking, the new access point instantly becomes part of the larger mesh and starts routing wireless traffic.

Nasco said he expects that about 3,000 members of the media attending the debates will use his network. Hes making access available by selling USB (Universal Serial Bus) keys coded with pre-purchased minutes from a kiosk on Tempes Mill Avenue, a downtown pedestrian thoroughfare. He said users who are there all the time will pay in more traditional ways, such as signing up with a credit card that will be periodically billed.

Although pleased to provide the network, Nasco said he doesnt expect to see either presidential candidate whip out his Wi-Fi-equipped notebook and start surfing the Web for last-minute facts using his network.

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...