Ireland’s first wide area Wi-Fi hotspot was launched in Cork today in a joint venture between Smart Telecom and Cork City Council.
Instead of covering a discrete area, such as a hotel or cafe, the so-called MeshHopper network covers a 1.5sq km area of Cork City centre. This means that users can roam within the entire area on their wireless devices without losing their internet signal.
The advent of such roaming Wi-Fi networks is seen as potentially serious blow to mobile operators – in urban areas at least. Until now, these operators could claim roaming as a unique selling point of their 2.5G and 3G networks. The launch of the Cork network raises the prospect of many of Ireland’s cities and large towns being covered in Wi-Fi and competing for business with the data networks run by O2, Vodafone and other operators. A number of US cities already have such MeshHopper networks in place.
Smart Telecom claims that not only is the Cork Wi-Fi network the first ever publicly accessible metropolitan area wireless network in Ireland, it is also the first time the technology has been implemented on such a scale in Europe.
The network consists of a self-configuring routed-mesh network, initially supporting 802.11b/a/g (ie wireless LAN or Wi-Fi devices). The network will use the recently commissioned Cork metropolitan area network installed by the local council to provide the backhaul internet access.
The network, which goes live today, will be accessible to the public via credit card on any wireless compatible device such as laptops and PDAs. “The service will be free for a short time – the next week or two- and will then be charged at a competitive rate,” Lorcan Brophy, Smart Telecom’s business development manager and project manager for the Cork MeshHopper network, told siliconrepublic.com. Although pricing has yet to be officially announced, he said that pricing would be “disruptive” and estimated that the service would be 30pc to 40pc cheaper than existing Wi-Fi services. As Wi-Fi operators in Dublin typically charge €10 per hour, Smart’s service could be available for between €6 and €7 per hour.
In terms of bandwidth, Brophy said that users would get 512Kbps downstream and 128Kbps upstream data speeds but this would be “uncontended” he said, meaning that that bandwidth would not be shared with other users. “I’ve used it myself and it’s impressive,” he enthused, adding: “We’re using a 54Mbps backbone with 54Mbps available from each node. It can support thousands of users before there is any potential congestion on the network.”
“This is fantastic technology and we believe that the uptake will be very enthusiastic in the Cork area,” said Oisin Fanning, CEO of Smart Telecom. “We are delighted that Smart Telecom was chosen over five other telecommunications companies to spearhead this important technological development in the Cork region. In addition, Cork is currently playing host to the European City of Culture so the contract is a very significant gain for Smart Telecom. We are very much looking forward to the roll out of Smart Telecom MeshHopper in Cork and we hope to extend the network to cover a larger area in the near future.”
Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Seán Martin said that this initiative was a critical element in maintaining Cork’s high-tech position. “As a country we need to move up the value chain if we are to remain in a position of advantage vis-à-vis our competitors both in Europe and abroad. Initiatives such as the Wi-Fi network mean that we can offer cutting edge technology to businesses already in situ and those that are considering inwardly investing in our economy.”
By Brian Skelly