Shaw starts Wi-Fi trial in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton

Shaw Communications Inc. hasn’t wasted any time becoming a Wi-Fi service provider.

The Western Canadian-based cable operator said Tuesday that its Internet subscribers can test the network now in 44 sites in Calagry, Edmonton and Vancouver prior to a wider network launch in the spring.
“It’s our first steps into what will be a significant program as we continue to grow the network,” said Cam Kernahan, Shaw’s group vice-president in charge of the wireless project.
Earlier this year Shaw said it will turn to Wi-Fi for mobility after turning its back on spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build a cellular network.

The Wi-Fi network uses access points from Cisco Systems Inc., which now total about 300. But eventually that will grow to thousands. It will be treated as one mesh network, Kernahan said, so adjacent signals can be handed off to adjacent access points.

Cable Internet subscribers who have an email Internet account are eligible to log into the network for free and can authenticate up to eight devices, including Wi-Fi enabled cellphones. When the wireless network is officially launched any data used will be counted against the subscriber’s home cable Internet package limit. During the trial, however, there will be no data limit.

Customers will get speeds “similar” to their home Internet service, Shaw [TSX: SJR] says. Kernahan said that in tests so far an 802.11n-equiped laptop will see download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, while an Apple iPad will see up to 30 Mbps. The speed shouldn’t be affected by the number of people logged on, he added.

In Calgary, the access points are clustered around the downtown and include the popular Kensington Village shopping block, restaurants and bars on 17th Ave. S.W., and several office buildings with retail outlets.
Vancouver locations include the Convention Centre, part of the Spanish Banks beach area, and several Shaw retail stores. Edmonton locations include a gym, an area around city hall and the Millbourne Market Mall.
How many Shaw Internet subscribers will use the service is “the big question,” Kernahan acknowledged. While Shaw wants to have widespread coverage, the Wi-Fi network will be centred around downtowns and public places like malls. It won’t be practical in a moving car that randomly cuts across a city, but Shaw is looking at whether access points can be strung along major public transit lines where it will be possible to have travelling connectivity.
“We have more than 1.8 million Internet subscribers that will have access to this service,” Kernahan said. “It’s a value-add to them, and we would like all of them to use it. Of course, it’s going to depend where we have those access points.”

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