Inexpensive Equipment Spurs on SoCal Wi-Fi Group

By Ed Sutherland

August 31, 2004

Always a friend to those looking to spread Wi-Fi, Sputnik offered an equipment bundle to the San Diego freenet at a price they couldn't refuse.

Wi-Fi equipment developer Sputnik is providing software and hardware to SoCalFreeNet, a group of 802.11 enthusiasts planning to blanket San Diego, Calif. with free wireless access.

Sputnik will contribute its Control Center Wi-Fi management software along with the company's AP120 and AP160 802.11b/g access points.

The San Francisco-based company offered the equipment bundle at a price suited to SoCalFreeNet's non-profit status, according to Leslie Schroeder, a Sputnik spokesperson.

The Sputnik APs are integrated with the Sputnik Control Center. The bundle is offered to both Wi-Fi hotspot operators and enterprises. The system will allow SoCalFreeNet to manage and monitor usage patterns, says Schroeder.

The Control Center software "enables Wi-Fi providers such as SoCalFreeNet to provision networks remotely, authenticate and track end users, and manage all its networks from a central location," according to a prepared statement from Sputnik.

The SoCalFreeNet is made up of nodes on homeowners' roofs or business places and a $90 kit for people wishing to access the nodes. The kit, available at San Diego area coffee houses, includes a D-Link radio, antenna, software and instructions.

Sputnik software and hardware allows hotspot operators to offer either free wireless connections or subscription or fee-based models.

"Only Sputnik products keep capital and operating costs so low that volunteer organizations such as SoCalFreeNet can build and manage wireless networks," claims David LaDuke, Sputnik's CEO.

"We want to contribute to the Wi-Fi community however we can," says Schroeder.

SoCalFreeNet "intends to expand free wireless access across San Diego," said Lee Barken, president of the volunteer group.

"We hope to work with other wireless user groups to blanket the area and make it possible for all residents to have free Internet access," said Barken. The group currently has 20 Wi-Fi hotspots operating in the San Diego area, says Schroeder.

In May, Barken said he hoped to have 100 nodes active by the end of 2005.

"We strongly believe that free wireless access is a community resource," said Barken.

The group also has contacts with wireless user groups in Orange County and Pasadena.

Begun in 2003 by the 250-member San Diego Wireless User Group, SoCalFreeNet started offering wireless access in the Golden Hill neighborhood of San Diego. A local businessman donated space on his apartment rooftop to allow the group to provide free Wi-Fi Internet access to area buildings and stores.

"According to the property owners, prospective tenants cite free wireless access as a decision criterion for selecting the Golden Hill apartment buildings unwired by SoCalFreeNet," said LaDuke.

"The free Wi-Fi concept is growing and very viable," says Schroeder.

The advantages for Sputnik include greater exposure and increased feedback on current and future products.

"We get a fair amount of exposure" thanks to the agreement, says Schroeder. Also, groups such as SoCalFreeNet provide the company with more background on the growth of Wi-Fi, along with ideas for new products, says the spokesperson.

With an active outreach program in area California universities, Sputnik first learned about the San Diego community Wi-Fi group at San Diego State University. Barken, in addition to leading SoCalFreeNet, is co-director of the STAR Center, a technology research organization based at the school.

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