Hunting for hot spots


POSTED: Sunday, March 01, 2009

A year and a half after it was first launched, the Honolulu Kokua Wireless project is still up and running - and growing.




Going wireless

        The city's free access sites include:

        » Harbor Court

        » Waikiki Trade Center

        » Haagen-Dazs Waikiki

        » Ala Moana Center food court

        » Burgers on the Edge - Kapahulu

        » Good to Grill/Caliente del Sol - Kapahulu

        » Academy of the Pacific

        » Honolulu Zoo snack bar

        For access

        For map


        For zoo videos


» www.honoluluzoo.org
        (click on Animal Info, scroll to videos)


Free Wi-Fi courtesy of the Honolulu County-sponsored Kokua Wireless program has now expanded to include some central business district office buildings, the Waikiki Trade Center, Ala Moana Center food court, Kapahulu restaurants and Honolulu Zoo.

The zoo? Yes, an antenna is up and running at the snack bar across from the new tiger exhibit featuring Chrissie and Berani's three new tiger cubs, Malosi, Keahi and Tondi.

Wi-Fi access was added at the zoo - not so Rusti the orangutan can surf the Web - but as an experiment in bringing technology to a large-scale facility.

Sidney Quintal, director of Honolulu's enterprise services, which oversees the zoo, said its vision is to wire up the entire zoo for interactive and educational purposes.

Zookeepers would be able to file updates on animals from the field rather than return to offices, monitor animals on a livecam, while visitors could snap photos and instantly send to friends and family.

A live feed of the new tiger cubs, for instance, would have been fabulous.

Right now, connectivity is available at the zoo snack bar, where visitors can sit at tables and surf the Web while free-ranging peacocks wander by. There is also some connectivity, though subject to change, by the Komodo dragons exhibit.

The city is looking for a partner to wire up all of Honolulu Zoo. Volunteers, meanwhile, have put up a library of videos ranging from elephant greetings to Rusti snacking on fruits at the Honolulu Zoo Society Web site at http://www.honoluluzoo.org (click on Animal Info, scroll to Videos).

“;It is so important that we embrace tomorrow's visitor that is today 3 years old,”; said Quintal. “;When they turn 12 or 15, who knows what kind of tools they're going to have?”;

Honolulu Zoo's new director, Stephen Walker, also embraces new technology. Walker comes to Honolulu from Tulsa, Okla., which offered live Chimp Cams of the zoo's chimp family.


A growing mesh

Kokua Wireless, the city's free Wi-Fi initiative which was launched in Chinatown in October 2007 to stimulate the economy, has undergone some tweaking, but can boast of having transferred some 4.5 billion terabytes (1 trillion bytes) of data over its information highway and more than 25,000 different unique users.

An average of 300 to 500 users hop on to Kokua Wireless a day.

Gordon Bruce, Honolulu's chief information officer, says the map of Kokua Wireless hot spots has expanded as far as Ewa Beach. Reaching out to Iwilei is the next goal.

Though Honolulu has a long way to go, Bruce pointed out it has now made Forbes' Top 30 list of most wired cities. Honolulu made its debut on the list this year as No. 25.

Forbes launched the list in 2007, and measures a city's wired quotient by computing the percentage of Internet users with high-speed connections and the number of companies providing the service. Forbes also factors in the number of public wireless Internet hot spots in the city, in addition to broadband penetration data from Scarborough Research.

Tri-net Solutions, a Honolulu-based IT service provider which first stepped in as a partner in the Kokua Wireless project after Earthlink Inc. pulled out two years ago, is still growing the free Wi-Fi network through a wireless mesh system based on hardware from Meraki Networks.

No password or login is required, but you will be directed to a splash page first. The Wi-Fi is free, but restricted. Users are not allowed to download games or videos, nor go to X-rated sites.

Aryn Nakaoka of Tri-net Solutions said the goal is to make Kokua Wireless into a recognizable brand name.

“;If you see Kokua Wireless, the idea is that it'll be a clean Internet connection,”; he said. “;The idea is that you can look at the map and if there is a node there, you know it's going to be family friendly.”;


More private partners

Tri-net is looking for more private partners who voluntarily foot the cost of a Meraki wireless node - anywhere between $100 to $200 each - in exchange for the service.

The partner is featured on the splash page that users first get when they hop on to Kokua Wireless.

Among the newest partners are CB Richard Ellis, which has offered to partner with Kokua Wireless at several buildings which it manages; the Academy of the Pacific in Alewa Heights; and Laughing Gravy Restaurants, which offers Wi-Fi at its new Kapahulu eateries by Safeway.

Bruce said his goal is to partner with more building and property managers like CB Richard Ellis.

The project is looking for more “;gateway”; nodes, which are direct connections hosted by a private business that is distributed to the public through a gateway node.

Many Chinatown merchants, such as the Arts at Marks Garage and Louis Pohl Gallery, host relay nodes, which are indirect, and do not offer as strong of a connection.

CB Richard Ellis, for example, pays for its own high-speed Internet connection, but makes it available on the ground floor rotunda area of Harbor Court as Kokua Wireless through a gateway node, or antennae.

In all, five CBRE buildings are hooked up to the program, including the Kapiolani Business Plaza, 1580 Makaloa and Model Progress Building in Chinatown.

“;It went really well for us to bring in a value-added service for free,”; said Laurie Akau, general manager of Harbor Court. “;It's a great service, it's free and it's always nice to be able to promote an alliance or partnership.”;

Bruce said interested partners just have to allow their Internet access point to become a gateway and purchase an antennae.

The private partners appear as a dot on a map at public.meraki.net/network/kokuawireless, which displays current and future hot spots.

“;My goal is to pepper the island with green dots,”; said Bruce.

A project of Kokua Wireless' kind has never been tried anywhere else in the U.S., according to Bruce.

“;We're not spending any taxpayer money,”; he said. “;This is a community-based project.”;

While private partners foot the costs of the antennas, Tri-net will help set up all the domains, and offer technical support.