New citywide Wi-Fi network nears completion

Approximately 95 percent of Minneapolis is expected to be covered by USI Wireless’ Wi-Fi coverage by mid to late March. However, there are still certain neighborhoods that are experiencing hiccups in coverage.

“Things are getting very near completion,” said Kurt Lange, co-owner of Minnetonka-based USI Wireless.

As of late February, between 7,500 and 10,000 residents have already signed up for the service.

“The reviews of the service now are glowing,” Lange said. He cited an independent third party December 2007 audit of the service that ranked the Minneapolis Wi-Fi network as the highest performing metro network in the country.

Wi-Fi allows users to surf the web wirelessly, from a number of locations across the city, as long as they have wireless capabilities for their computer. However, where one surfs can affect the ride.

“Geographically, there is little difference [if any] in the network,” Lange wrote. “Factors are house type — stucco for example is challenging for WiFi to penetrate — and multi-unit dwellings need extra work to operate well.”

Taller buildings, especially those above three stories, require additional equipment installed to provide wireless to the top floor of a building, according to a city news release. USI Wireless suggests contacting [email protected] to begin the instillation process or report issues.

The city and USI Wireless have identified “challenge areas,” particularly in the 7th Ward, providing Wi-Fi coverage. An anvil-shaped area, stretching south from Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles area north to Interstate Highway 394 has been identified as problematic. As have Loring Park and the Downtown riverfront areas.

As of Feb. 21, the project — which is running slightly behind schedule and some 20 percent over budget — was in its final of six phases, building coverage around Minnehaha, Nokomis and Hiawatha in South Minneapolis.

The most popular option so far — the company’s $19.95, month-to-month option — downloads information at 1 megabit-per-second.

Some 3,000 wireless radios are currently installed — many on city light poles — transmitting Wi-Fi signals, Lange wrote. Even if one were to take laptop on a lake —  one of the city’s unidentified coverage areas — chances are you’d still receive a signal, Lange said.

In 2006, city officials signed a 10-year contract with US Internet to build and manage a wireless network across the city.