Folsom to launch city-wide WiMax "warm zone"

Folsom, California, a city of about 62,000 residents, may become the first city in the United States to provide city-wide wireless Internet access using WiMax. A feasibility study commissioned by the city says the city could launch WiMax-based system by fall 2007. Rather than use hundreds of WiFi APs to turn the city into a hot zone, Folsom will use a single base station to create a WiMax "warm zone" allowing free Internet access within the zone. "In terms of municipal wireless, it's actually a very rare thing," says Sam Lucero, a senior analyst with ABI Research. "Compared to Wi-Fi, it's much further down the road," he said.

Folsom Economic Development Coordinator Joe Luchi said that the city is considering the WiMax technology, rather than comparatively tried-and-true WiFi, for several reasons. WiMax network uses far fewer transmission points than a WiFi network, so WiMax requires less equipment and should be significantly less expensive. WiMax also should do a good job of complementing Folsom's existing "wired" high-speed Internet service rather than replacing it--as an extensive grid of WiFi hot spots might, Luchi said. "If residents are satisfied with their current broadband and DSL service, there may not be a real incentive for them to use this service," he said. "This is not intended to compete with that."

The WiMax network is likely to be most useful to mobile Internet users, said Stephen Blum who helped write the feasibility study. It is also good for setting up secure wireless networks among large groups--such as city employees or the different offices at a medical campus, he said.

Note that Intel employs 7,000 workers at its Folsom campus. Intel is heavily invested in the development of WiMax, and it appears to have a clear interest in helping along the development of a city-wide WiMAX network which may be used to showcase future products. "Their WiFi chipsets got the whole market for WiFi up and running," Lucero said. "They're planning on essentially doing that for WiMax." Intel helped to pay for the feasibility study of the WiMax network, and is donating equipment for a pilot version of the network that could be functional as soon as next month.

For more on Folsom move:
- see this TMC report