Festival Hydro transforms Stratford into WiFi hotspot

Festival Hydro Services Inc., a distributor of electrical power to the City of Stratford and surrounding communities, is taking advantage of smart meter technology mandated by the Ontario government to transform the city into an 802.11n WiFi hotspot.

The smart meter program aims to conserve electricity by replacing traditional meters that read energy consumption on a monthly basis with “smart meters” that allow utilities to see consumption by the minute. With daily readings, utilities can bill consumers according to time of use (TOU) and charge different rates for energy consumption during peak or off-peak hours.

Smart meters can collect data using WiFi or cellular signals, said Paul West, business development manager for Festival Hydro Services. “We will be one of the first communities to do WiFi collection,” he said.

Festival Hydro will also use the WiFi smart meters to create a city-wide WiFi hotspot for residents and visitors. West said 20 per cent of the city will be covered in time for the Canada 3.0 digital media forum, which will take place at the Stratford Rotary Complex on May 10 and 11.

Other cities in Canada, such as Fredericton, Regina and Saskatoon, have city-wide WiFi, but Stratford will be unique by supporting faster broadband speeds and independent service providers, he said. 

What’s exciting about the service is that it travels with you everywhere, so there will be opportunities for new smart phone applications and voice capabilities that will provide an alternative to cellular service, he said.

Festival Hydro is currently working with independent service providers to deliver the WiFi service to consumers.

Full Internet access will require signing up and paying for the broadband service, but free access to selected Web sites will be provided to help bridge the digital divide for citizens with low or fixed incomes, he said.

“Our entire community will have access to all the city services, library services, local events and so on, so we are improving the inclusiveness of our community,” said West.

Festival Hydro is also working to improve WiFi access specifically for the Canada 3.0 forum, which will provide free indoor and outdoor WiFi to all attendees.

The indoor network will use Motorola Inc.’s AP-5131 wireless access point for 802.11a/b/g service, while the outdoor network will feature 802.11a/b/g/n using Motorola’s new high performance AP 7181 access point, he said.

This is Motorola’s fastest outdoor mesh-enabled WiFi system, said West. “With 802.11n, you can start providing 300MB bandwidth through the air … Stratford will be the first community in North American with that platform,” he said.

The WiFi project serves as a good example of what the Canada 3.0 forum itself is all about. “We hope other communities will follow our lead,” said West.

Stratford is certainly taking a leadership role with the WiFi project, said Kevin Tuer, managing director of the Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN), which is co-hosting the forum with the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus.

“Often, it is not technology that is the barrier – it is the leadership in order to make these initiatives come to fruition,” said Tuer.

The intent of the forum is to bring industry, government and academia together for discussions on positioning Canada as a digital nation and setting the country’s digital roadmap, said Tuer. This includes everything from infrastructure to content to regulation, he said.

The forum has also adopted a “moon shot,” which is that anyone in Canada can do anything online by 2017, said Tuer. “We are trying to focus everyone’s efforts at this forum on that goal so we can move every aspect of the digital economy forward,” he said.

Ensuring that all Canadians have broadband access is a part of this goal, said Tuer.

“Not that many years ago, we seemed to be taking a leadership position in terms of making sure we do have broadband access to every Canadian and we seemed to have fallen behind in that regard. We are hoping that bringing this all together into the Canada 3.0 forum will be a way in which we can make that a priority again,” he said.

The “single biggest outstanding issue” is the development of a digital strategy for Canada, said Tuer. Minister Tony Clement is scheduled to present a keynote at the forum, which Tuer hopes will report “some information about that digital strategy.”

There is also a pending white paper about the digital economy, he said. “We are hoping that some of that information will be made available so we can use the forum … as a way to accelerate the conversation forward,” he said.

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur.

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