Business in Vancouver October 21-27, 2008; issue 991
Engulfed in wireless clouds
Delta's Novax Industries is proposing Wi-Fi networks along Main, Broadway and Hastings streets that could provide free Internet access to more than 23,000 residents and businesses
Roughly 8,000 businesses and residents along Vancouver's Main Street corridor will have free access to wireless Internet by December, when the installation of the first of three mesh Wi-Fi networks in Vancouver is completed.
The deployment of the network, which runs north along Main Street from 57th Avenue to Cordova Street in downtown Vancouver, is the first phase in what could one day be a citywide wireless cloud.
Delta-based Novax Industries Corp. is laying the Wi-Fi mesh network over a transit signal priority (TSP) system it's installing on Main Street as part of a contract it was awarded last February by TransLink, the Lower Mainland's transit authority.
Transit buses equipped with wireless beacons can remotely access the TSP system to activate or prolong green lights to ensure consistent flow of the Main Street transit line.
Novax has been developing audible pedestrian signals, traffic light synchronizing systems and other traffic control systems – it's the incumbent supplier of Vancouver's roughly 700 traffic light controllers – since its founding in 1981.
Now, Novax's traffic control systems are going wireless, and the company is pitching the systems as a platform for municipalities to build unified, multiple-use wireless networks.
Within a citywide cloud, citizens could access the Internet, and business and government could remotely operate a host of services, including buses, security systems and telephone networks.
"If you take a look at where this might go, you start off with transit vehicles, then you can decide to go into emergency vehicles, then you can track commercial vehicle operations through your network," said David Atnikov, Novax's president and CEO.
TransLink plans to also deploy TSP systems along Hastings Street and Broadway.
In its request for proposals for the Main Street TSP system, TransLink said that additional TSP systems in the city will be based on the technology used on Main Street – making Novax a front-runner for being awarded contracts for TransLink's future TSP systems.
Novax said that its technology could produce wireless networks that cover 15,000 and 8,000 businesses and residences along Broadway and Hastings Street, respectively.
City councillor and mayoral candidate Peter Ladner confirmed that Vancouver's community wireless broadband initiative has been derailed because the city couldn't develop a business model that included a consistent revenue stream that would offset costs to taxpayers.
Novax's contract with TransLink is achieving the initiative's goal of offering free wireless access to the public.
"We are going to get Wi-Fi after all, and TransLink is going to pay for it," said Ladner. "It's not going cost the city and … the spinoff is that now there is broadband available along the route for other uses potentially."
Some of those opposing a citywide municipal network have pointed out that there are already at least 200 free wireless "hotspots" in cafés, coffee shops, malls and other public-use spaces around Vancouver.
While municipal Wi-Fi networks still face many security and regulatory issues, as well as resistance from wireless service providers in the private sector who fear losing business, some Canadian cities such as Fredericton and Toronto have created low-cost or free wireless networks that encompass downtown districts or café hubs.
Steveston Harbour in Richmond deployed a wireless mesh network last month to operate a network of 22 surveillance cameras.
The wireless technology connects the security systems of the harbour's two separate sites, which are located about two kilometres from each other.
Although the harbour has no immediate plans to use the network for other applications, the harbour's operations supervisor Joel Baziuk recognizes the opportunities the network provides.
"We could provide wireless Internet access for all of our clients if we wanted to," he said, noting that the company could also operate speakers, microphones and electronic gates via the network.
"The idea is to give yourself a whole bunch of doors that you may not open yet, but can open any time you want."
He said that the harbour isn't concerned about security breaches over the wireless network because the network is on a limited-access frequency.
As well, the company that installed the network, California's Firetide Inc., develops secure wireless networks for the United States military. •