Southwest portion of Wi-Fi network going live soon

If everything goes according to plan, Southwest residents should have access to the citywide wireless network by the end of the month.

Officials have faced challenges installing the network in Southwest, including finding structures such as light poles that are strong enough to support the wireless equipment. Those challenges have caused the completion date for the Southwest portion of the network to be pushed back several times from an original targeted completion date of June.

U.S. Internet Wireless (USIW), the Minnetonka-based company the city chose to build the network, is now close to having those issues sorted out. Residents will receive a notice in the mail when the wireless network is up and running in their area and can sign up for service at that time.

Yet while most of the Southwest network will likely be completed by the end of October, there may still be some glitches in a few areas. Jim Farstad, a technical consultant who has been working with the city on the wireless network, said USIW officials have identified about a dozen challenge areas throughout the city that will need further work before they become operational. Challenge areas include spots around Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, as well as Loring Park and a small area near City Hall. Some challenge areas are as small as a half-block long and some are as large as two acres, Farstad said.
USIW officials will continue to work on problems prohibiting wireless service in the challenge areas, but Farstad said they didn’t want to delay service in an entire part of the city because of a few difficult-to-reach areas.

“It’s a matter of saying, ‘OK, let’s finish it and get the thing going and then continue to work on challenge areas,’” Farstad said.

The solution to the problem might be putting the wireless equipment on buildings, using state or county light poles or infrastructure, or, in a few rare cases, possibly even putting up new poles. On the western border of the city along France Avenue, USIW will likely even seek permission to use light poles that are within Edina’s city limits.

The entire citywide network — which is being constructed in six geographic segments across the city — was initially scheduled for completion in November, but USIW officials are now aiming to complete the network by the end of the year.

The public is invited to attend a Nov. 16 event at City Hall that will demonstrate how city departments will utilize the network, Farstad said.