Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Major effort needed
for WiFi Waikiki


Civic and city officials are discussing how to provide wireless Net access in Waikiki.

STUNNED by a low rating in providing wireless access to the Internet, Honolulu civic leaders and business officials are moving toward turning Waikiki into a single, uninterrupted hot spot. Hawaii's surging tourism should enable hotels, restaurants and other businesses in Waikiki to follow the national trend of offering the access free of charge.

ShakaNet Inc., a small technology company that makes money from people at Internet-access kiosks at Honolulu Airport, hotels and other spots, sees a future in the city's tourism haven based on service free to users. "All the wireless companies have to figure out how to make money on a free model," Nam Vu, the company's chief technology officer, told the Star-Bulletin's Stewart Yerton.

Honolulu plummeted from 13th to 73rd in the third annual Most Unwired City ratings of America's 100 largest cities, surveyed by Intel Corp. in April. While the number of places in the state where computer users can access the Internet through wireless fidelity -- WiFi -- networks rose, other cities' hot spots increased at a greater pace.

A major part of the task ahead is one of coordination. Technology executives complain that wireless services overlap in many places, creating interference. In other places, wireless Internet access is not available.

Gordon Bruce, Honolulu's chief technology officer, met with local tech executives yesterday to discuss how city government can encourage an unregulated, islandwide system devoid of such problems. That could be complicated; some regulation might be needed to keep WiFi providers from intruding on each other.

Members of Honolulu Enterprise, an economic development group, recently formed the Hawaii Wireless Council to foster alliances among private businesses in providing the service to Waikiki. The Waikiki Improvement Association would be a logical player in such an effort, perhaps as a conduit for services through bidding by such companies as ShakaNet and Skywave Broadband Inc., which has plans to provide wireless Internet service.

"There's no question that being able to provide wireless service for Waikiki will be a real plus," said Rick Egged, the association's president.

Increasingly, laptop computer users are coming to expect free broadband access. One survey shows that 18 percent of online adult computer users in the United States have connected to the Internet from a public hot spot. Four of five families with wireless home networks use their computers in different rooms and their back yards, employing Net access in a variety of ways.

"WiFi promises to do for computing what cell phones did for voice communication," says Sean Maloney, Intel vice president. "It is eliminating boundaries and allowing people to access the Internet and communicate freely while they're on the go."

Mayor Hannemann is following through on his campaign promise to encourage expansion of wireless connectivity in Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. Hawaii Superferry plans to provide such access when it begins operation in early 2007. The service also would be an asset on a commuter ferry system planned by the city between Kalaeloa and downtown as early as next year.

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