Vail could be wireless by ski season
July 12, 2006
VAIL – Installing a wireless internet network may put a ski resort on the map, but Vail town council members want to make sure the unsightly “nodes” don’t interfere with the improvements to Vail Village. Communications provider CenturyTel plans to install 84 nodes – cylindrical metal objects nearly 3-feet tall and 1-foot in diameter – to operate a townwide public-access wireless internet network in Vail. In the proposal, CenturyTel had planned to put 18 of those nodes on Vail Villages’s lampposts, which are worth more than $2,000 a piece. But at last Tuesday’s town council meeting, council members told the company to find an alternative, and even suggested camouflaging the nodes as fire hydrants or hiding them behind foliage. “If it has to stay on a lampost, I foresee a problem,” said councilman Farrow Hitt.Bob Stone, from CenturyTel, said the nodes will instead be placed on other city-owned property, such as bridges, restrooms, and parking structures.Before the contract between CenturyTel and the town gets signed, the revised map of the nodes’ placement will go before Vail’s Design and Review Board on Aug. 1 for approval. If the contract does get signed, which both parties say they expect, guests and Vail residents will have access to wireless internet for an hour at a time at 300 kilobits per second by November, in time for the start of the ski season. “You can sign up for one-hour increments, and at the end of the hour, you have to register for more time,” Stone said. “Hypothetically, you could register 24 times a day.”There are no restrictions on the number of people on the network at a given time, said Ron Braden, the information technology manager for Vail. “We’ve got plenty of bandwidth, so we don’t anticipate that being a problem,” he said.
There will also be a private network for city employees and another network on a separate frequency for emergency services, both at 200 megabits per second.”It gives us another communication method for (police) in-car video for pushing video back to the dispatch center,” Braden said. The current technology Vail public safety officers use through Sprint is only 700 kilobits, Braden said.CenturyTel is considering expanding the emergency services network to the I-70 corridor.”It’s something that we’re planning on adding that we’ve figured into our plan, but it’s not in our contract,” Stone said.
Stone said business will be able to subscribe to a speed between 10 and 100 megabits, and individuals can subscribe to a speed of one to three megabits and faster, if they’d like. Pricing has not been determined, but Stone said the company would be “very competitive in the marketplace.”Braden said his department has wanted to build this network for a couple years now but was waiting for technology to evolve.The problem was Vail did not want to invest three-fourths of a million dollars it would cost to build and maintain it, he said. But with CenturyTel as the owner and operator of the network, the town doesn’t have to pay anything. In return, CenturyTel gets to sell subscriptions to its network to individuals and businesses in Vail, as well as possibly sell advertising.CenturyTel would guarantee the town 95 percent coverage outside and 90 percent inside buildings, Stone said. “It’s a really good deal, so it’s going to be beneficial to everyone involved,” Braden said.This is the first time CenturyTel has used this new wireless technology, which Stone calls a “WiMAX and WiFi mesh network.” Stone said it means “all the nodes are going to know where each other are and communicate with each other faster.””It’s going to be a faster, more high-performing network than anything we’ve ever done,” Stone said.Vail will be a model for the half-dozen other cities to which CenturyTel is proposing this technology. “(The company is) looking to build a network that they can blueprint so they can roll it out for the rest of the country,” Braden said. The town awarded the proposal to CenturyTel in May after the company competed with six others in a bid. The deal with CenturyTel would last eight years, after which the town and the company would head back to the negotiations table.”We’ll sit down and talk and decide, ‘Do we want to do this more?'” Stone said.
Since Vail entered into talks with CenturyTel to get wireless internet, the downvalley communities have been watching closely.Braden put on a presentation earlier this month for representatives from the town of Avon, and the Beaver Creek, Arrowhead and Edwards metro districts, who might want to take advantage of the service. “That’s the direction that technology is heading certainly, and the town is certainly interested in it,” said Scott Wright, the finance director for Avon.Clyde Hanks, with the Beaver Creek Metro District, said he thinks wireless internet would be beneficial to his resort community.”The free wireless internet access is especially appealing to guests who are here and to anybody who has a mobile device that can pick up a wireless signal,” Hanks said. “I think what Vail is doing is really interesting and exciting, and we look forward to seeing their progress.” Nic Corbett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgVail, Colorado