City of Airdrie puts free public Wi-Fi in municipal buildings

Anyone visiting publicly accessible municipal buildings as part of the City of Airdrie in Alberta can now connect for free to the Internet on a variety of mobile devices via Wi-Fi hotspots.

The City introduced Web connectivity to the public after receiving numerous requests from visitors and event holders to the buildings. The free hotspots are available in Genesis Place and City Hall buildings.

“We wanted our guests to connect to people and places while visiting our facilities,” said Paul Hurst, the City’s network administrator.

Visitors carrying all manner of mobile device can surf the Web, whether it’s BlackBerry, iPhones, iPads and laptops. No password is required; users just connect to the “AIRNET” signal.

Hurst said the technology underlying the Wi-Fi connectivity had to be “simple, cost effective and scalable” given expected visitor usage and plans for future growth of the hotspots.

The City is expecting the service to be used mostly by visitors looking to connect with “people and places” through social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, said Hurst. “Demand has been quite high and usage has followed since going live,” he said.

In terms of Web browsing freedom, there are no restrictions except to pornographic sites. Hurst said the City is accomplishing this by using content filtering to restrict suggestive content and Web advertising, and also to protect visitors from phishing sites. Inline anti-virus scanning is also applied to Web traffic as an added layer of defense.

The Wi-Fi hotpots have a capacity of 54MBps at 802.11b/g.

Besides the City of Airdrie, another recent widespread Wi-Fi implementation happened at the City of Stratford where the area was turned into an 801.11n hotspot in 2010 for residents and visitors.

Other Canadian cities with public Wi-Fi include Fredericton, Regina and Saskatoon.

Besides cities, Concordia University in Montreal was the first academic institution in Canada to deploy an 802.11n network in 2008.

Concordia President Michael DiGrappa said, at the time, that the project was an effort to expand the school’s campus-wide wireless network to meet the mobility needs of the community.

Describing it as a “daunting task,” DiGrappa said the network is part of a “larger, innovative indoor/outdoor wireless mobility infrastructure” designed to help meet the needs of 44,000 students and 3,000 faculty members and staffers.

The implementation is to better allow the university to maintain a “link” with students and faculty in light of increased demands for innovative technologies, said DiGrappa.

In particular, as technological innovation has led to new ways to teach, DiGrappa said, “it amounts to an ongoing technological evolution.”

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau