Pittsburgh Groks Wireless

By Eric Griffith

May 17, 2002

The Steel City wants to go wireless and has a program in place though the end of June for public testing of 802.11b-based Internet connections.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, "grok" is a term coined in Robert Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land that means "To understand profoundly through intuition or empathy."

Whether Pittsburgh's Grok Technology gets wireless intuitively may become obvious over the next few weeks. They have partnered with 3 Rivers Connect, a non-profit devoted economic/social/educational development through use of technology, to launch two pilot areas in the downtown of the city (specifically in Mellon Square and Market Square). Users with 802.11b-capable systems will be able to access the Internet for free in these areas through the trial program. This public trial is dubbed the Pittsburgh Public Wireless Internet (PPWI) program.

"Wireless is the hot market, but the question is what is the demand, how will people use it?" says Ronald Gdovic, executive director of 3 Rivers Connect, Grok's partner in the trial. "It's a difficult question to answer, there isn't a lot of data. How do mobile professionals given wireless access out in a park in the middle of summer use it? Would they watch short movies? Ecommerce? Access e-mail? This pilot project is designed to gauge the demand."

The two sites are operational now with full-time wireless access. As of next week, Monday though Friday from 7:30am to 9 am and from 11am to 1pm, each site will be manned by a wireless specialist from Grok Technology to demonstrate what users can do with the system. During the pilot program, Internet access is provided by 3 Rivers Connect, Nauticomm, and Pen Telecom. The equipment is from Grok and Avaya.

This is only phase one of the project. Phase two moves access into several other areas of the city. Grok Technology expects that PPWI will create as many as 70 new jobs in the region over the next three years. Gdovic expects final subscriber prices will be less than $20 per month for use of the downtown area's WLAN access.

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