Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jet City Wifi... the state of CROWN

Well, I guess the topic of this post is heavily geared toward those of us who have had the pleasure of using CROWN City of Renton Outdoor Wireless Network... or the free wifi in Renton.  I've had plenty of fun trying to use this network... from when I lived on Burnett (both sides of the transit center) and when I lived on Wells, but I seem to try to use it more now that I don't actually live in Renton.  Let me tell you, try I do... and with a suprisingly low success rate. 

I have had times when it worked great near the transit center, and it always seems to work when you are in the library.  However, it never seems to work in the places that people actually try to use it.  Like the bleachers of the baseball diamond in Liberty park, Jet City Espresso, Liberty Cafe, or any of the public parking lots... Remember, it's only hazardous if I am looking at the computer while War Driving!  Plus, most of the time I just pick a random parking lot and stop... anyway.

Plus, another thing just dawned on me.  Marymoor Park and Kirkland's wifi networks both work awesome!  What is the difference between the Marymoor, Kirkland, and Renton wifi networks? 

So, I went over to this W2i Wireless Government Report where I didn't find my answer, but discovered that CROWN was originally a Washington Crime Information Center (WACIC) network that is supposed to cover 80% of the city, and the city of Renton has discussed the possibility of charging a city wide access fee as part of the City Utilities.  A little bit of a side track, however it lead me to understand that CROWN simply used surplus equipment that that state was not using th piece together the network.  They then only offer surplus bandwidth to the community.  Plus, when I look at the service area map, it implies that city employees (for whom the network is intended) apparently have special hardware in their vehicles that extend their network reception.  This is probably nothing more than an amplified antenna connected to either an external antenna port for their machines, or an access point in bridge mode that they can use to connect via their own private hot spot or Ethernet cable. 

As far as the kirkland network goes, The coverage is focused on two parks strategically placed on either end of down town.  I guess this makes sense considering more of the businesses in Kirkland offer their own Wifi networks.  Meaning that while you don't get a seamless connection covering the entire downtown area, you have a series of networks that offer access to those who are willing to stay in one place while they surf the web.  It gets the job done, it's cheaper for the city, and it gets the job done; however it externalizes the cost of the network to the local businesses, and does not allow a user to move across town while using a single Internet connection.  While this doesn't matter for most uses, many secure connections will close when the user disconnects from one wireless network and connects to the next network, and it creates small periods of time where the user has "no connection" because they are establishing a new connection.

Marymoor park has the best setup.  170 acres of one continuous wifi access point!  (and a dog park for Jaani!)  both of us win with this one.  I guess the only bad part is that Marymoor is such a beautiful park it is nearly impossible to justify connecting to the network.  However the lack of trees in most of the park creates an optimum environment for an outdoor network (allowing close to 700 feet between access points.) 

I guess the downfall is that while Renton has a very ambitious plan for their wireless network, the scale of the network makes it very difficult and expensive to provide seamless coverage.  Renton's network has large amounts of interference trees and buildings, and the city employees require special equipment to get access throughout the city; even then, to get the 80% coverage claim line of sight to the access point is required even with the special equipment.

FYI. As far as downtown Renton is concerned, the three Wifi access points are at City Hall, the Library, and the Transit Center.  for the most part, if you are not at one of those locations, the city will only guarantee access with "laptop in equipped car & laptop only if they have line-of-site."

The city of Renton has a coverage map that shows the coverage area, and while they were able color in most of the city, the most prominent color represents areas that provide "coverage for laptop in equipped car is they have line-of-site."

So... most people in downtown Renton can get coverage from the wifi network if they have line of site to the transit center, the city hall, or the library.  Which leaves a lot of people out of the loop.

So... that's a really long post, and I will leave with that.