WiFi access on Dewees — a $ saving idea

Some islanders are interested in setting up a wireless WiFi network on Dewees.  The Communications Committee studied the idea and solicited bids for building a “municipal” WiFi network for the island.  The low bid that they received was for $55,000.

I think we can build a much cheaper network using Fon.com‘s two-side wireless routers.

Here is the text of an email I sent to the Dewees budget committee and some of members of the Communications Committee.

Budget $ Saving Idea for Island WiFi Access

I have an idea about a very inexpensive way to provide WiFi access on Dewees: Get everyone on the island (residents and POA locations) with an internet connection to install a Fonera.  A Fonera is an inexpensive 2-sided wireless router.  One side provides free access to anyone in the fonera network.  The other side provides secure wireless access for the network owner (homeowner or POA location).  See FON.com for details.

The key is to make everyone aware of Fonera and get them to install a Fonera ($29.95 plus shipping).  Fonera‘s from FON have been around for 5+ years and are well tested.  They are in use locally and around the world.  They’ve really caught on in one neighborhood in Ion in Mount Pleasant, SC (to see a map with the coverage area, go to http://maps.fon.com/, enter zip code 29464, zoom out and then look at the area around N. Shelmore Blvd. in Ion).

I’ve ordered a Fonera and will be installing it at my home on Dewees.  So we’ll have at least one public  Fonera access point.  People should be able to go fishing at Chapel Pound and get email on their iPhone via WiFi.  It would be great if we had 60+ access points.  You could WiFi on the front beach.

The one area we probably can’t reach very well is the Northbeach because it’s pretty far away.

The solution I’m proposing has a bunch of virtues.  No cost to the POA (except a few Foneras; maybe $400).  Very low cost for each home owner ($29.95 per home).  Wide coverage area (much of the island).  No ongoing maintenance cost for the POA.  All we need to do is convince others of the virtues.

I’ve heard people talk about the POA putting in a “municipal” WiFi network.  These systems are notoriously volatile and expensive (probably more than $50,000 to set up on Dewees plus annual maintenance costs).  They have more dead spots than originally projected and people get frustrated when it doesn’t work in their particular location.  The City of Charleston recently discontinued its effort.

Fonera seems like a great low cost, high benefit solution.  Since it would almost free, I think people’s expectations would be lower.  It’s hard to complain about free Internet access being provided by private citizens.

What do you think?

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