The funny-looking “keg” antennas have been appearing atop street lamps around the city since last year, and it looks like One Zone, Toronto Hydro’s plan to blanket the city with wireless internet, is bearing fruit. According to the Globe, the City-owned utility says that the network is already a resounding success—a significant achievement since similar installations in major U.S. cities are failing.
The reason for this is based on how the network was implemented: rather than rolling out service across the entire city, the initial, current system is only available in the downtown core, where businesses and residential buildings are dense and clients are even more likely to have ultra-portable devices (like this week’s new iPod touch) which come with built-in WiFi capabilities. Also, the service is only offered via monthly, hourly, or daily payment plans ($29, $5, and $10, respectively), whereas many U.S. companies offer free wireless access to disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Crucial elements, like repair trucks and 450 km of fibre optics, were also already in place as part of the electricity company’s infrastructure.
Despite initial concerns about the health and legal ramifications behind the antenna installations, the 225 WiFi access points were rolled-out late last year after the $60 million sale of the City’s lamp posts to Toronto Hydro. The transmitters have a 100-metre outdoor range (employing the 802.11b/g standard), and Toronto Hydro says that the highest-traffic areas were behind City Hall and within the financial district. Currently, the coverage spans 235 city blocks.
Ontario was a world leader in both the development of cable television in the 1950s and the adoption of direct payment (Interac) banking services in the mid-90s, and Toronto’s wireless internet model could change how these type of services are traditionally employed in other cities. Strangely, it may have taken an electricity company to do it—and while there is still a lot to complain about when it comes to our limited broadband options, we can see the day when metropolitan WiFi is regarded the same way as electricity is: a “free-ish” (tax-funded), reliable public utility. Just don’t tell that to the private sector.
Photo by Marc Lostracco.