Wireless Toronto underway

Toronto went wireless Wednesday, joining the ranks of unwired municipalities like Ottawa, Fredericton and Whistler. Phase one of Toronto’s Wi-Fi network — dubbed One Zone — is up and running and boasts the largest Wi-Fi network in Canada.

Unveiled with much fanfare in the heart of Toronto’s financial district at York Street and King Street, the service seeks to significantly transform the way businesses and consumers use wireless communications in the city.

One Zone was officially announced at Toronto Stock Exchange’s Broadcast Centre.

David Dobbin, president of Toronto Hydro Telecom, said that it will change the way Torontonians work, live, and play.

The service will be implemented in five stages leading up to the year end, with the initial phase of the network set up to span roughly Queen Street to Front Street and Church Street to Spadina Avenue.

The network has been built with equipment supplied by Siemens Canada and BelAir Networks and will be available for free for six months until March 6, 2007. The final phase of One Zone will span a six-kilometre radius, going from Front Street to Bloor Street and from Bathurst Street to Parliament Street.

“It sends a strong signal to investors, researchers and other business partners that we see Toronto as a hub for innovation, investment and continued prosperity,” Toronto Mayor David Miller said.

The One Zone service will offer three different payment plans upon the end of the free trial period: a pre-paid monthly subscription of $29, a 24-hour plan for $10 or an hourly rate of $5.

Offering connection speeds of potentially seven megabits per second, the wireless plan for Toronto is eventually to be rolled out to the entire city in three years.

A $2 million initiative that is largely targeted towards corporate and entrepreneurial customers, Toronto Hydro Telecom believes it will recoup its financial investment in the Wi-Fi network within a year due to larger-than-expected demand.

“We think these prices give everyone a fair deal on broadband access that is fast, secure, reliable and best of all, untethered,” Dobbin said.

In spite of all the positive buzzwords like “freedom” and “mobility” Toronto Hydro Telecom espouses in its deployment of urban Wi-Fi, there are questions about the service’s use.

While other Canadian cities like Fredericton offer free Wi-Fi services, Toronto will charge users for access to the network, and compete with private wireless carriers like Bell Canada, Telus and Rogers. Further, speed and security guarantees with One Zone are not clearly laid out by Toronto Hydro Telecom, with the company only exploring Quality of Service offerings.

Accessing One Zone service involves similar principles as private wireless data carriers. Employing a Multi-Radio Mesh network design on the 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi frequency, One Zone has low latency, high scalability, and resilience to interference.

In order for users to access the One Zone SSID, a cell phone, which will deliver a username and password via SMS, will be required to authenticate users on the network.

With radio transmitters installed on continuous city streetlights, One Zone creates a stable wireless “zone” instead of intermittent hotspots in coffee shops or train stations.

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