Squamish slowly plans for Olympic Wi-Fi

Athletes and visitors gathering in Vancouver for the 2010 winter Olympic and Paralympic games won’t have to worry about wireless connectivity, as one region’s IT employees are already making some technology plans.

Although officials with the District of Squamish, which is located between Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., are excited at the prospect of having a Wi-Fi network up and running by 2010, the Olympics weren’t the district’s primary reason for undertaking the project.

It was originally intended for use by city staff, explained Garry Broeckling, CTO for the District of Squamish, but since the district was setting up the network anyway, it decided to make it available to the public at the same time.

“The way things are right now, the public is going to find [the connection] anyway,” said Broeckling, “so we might as well make [it] available and start having a gateway system so we can control access. We can monitor it and we can also charge for it, so we can do a little cost recovery on that also.”

Although the district will be able to generate revenue through the Wi-Fi service, Broeckling said money wasn’t the main motivator behind offering the service to the public. “We want to keep the rates high enough so we are not competing with the cable company and high-speed Internet through DSL (digital subscriber line),” he added.

The district is hoping to build a gateway for the Wi-Fi network before the end of the year. Broeckling is unsure at this point who will install the public network but said that his team will deploy anything inside government buildings.

Because the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic games are more than six years away, Broeckling said the district is not hurrying into any purchase decisions when it comes to hardware. “We have to be careful not to buy any of the major equipment as far as large area coverage too soon because if we bought something today, I am pretty sure it would be severely out-of-date by the time the Olympics arrive,” he noted.

Broeckling said he is waiting until next year when WiMax — the 802.16 standard that provides broadband wireless connectivity — becomes available before thinking about what equipment will be used for the implementation. But he noted that the district has already chosen a vendor to provide the Wi-Fi software. Squamish chose Cambridge, Ont.-based LogiSense Corp.’s EngageIP Hotspot Suite software, which can provide authentication, automated billing and payment processing through common gateways.

Broeckling stressed that any technological solutions Squamish is planning to implement for the 2010 games are independent from those that the International Olympic Committee may use. In recent Olympic and Paralympic games Wi-Fi was not deployed due to security and performance concerns. Reports also indicate that the Olympic committee has decided not to deploy it in Athens, citing the same concerns.

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