AT&T Inc. has received approval to build its first WiFi network to provide free high-speed wireless Internet access throughout the city of Riverside, Calif.
The Riverside City Council on Tuesday agreed to a deal with AT&T to build the WiFi network, for a cost that some estimate at $8.8 million. The city will receive more than 1,000 access devices mounted on buildings and polls across 80-square miles.
The WiFi technology allows computer and PDA users with wireless access to connect to the Internet from parks and other public places, said Carl Nerup, vice president in the business development group.
"It's about making affordable broadband available to everyone," he said.
Construction on the network will begin shortly. Service options will follow in early 2007.
AT&T will support the free service by selling advertising space on the Web home page for the free wireless network. The telecommunications giant also will sell several package plans, including daily and monthly, giving users an option to connect to the Internet at higher speeds. A local Internet service provider will also have an option to sell access to the network.
"It would be incredibly valuable to have WiFi access in a 50-mile radius area around my work or home," said Brian Foster, director of information technology at Bradshaw International, a wholesale distributor of kitchen products to retail stores, such as Wal-Mart and Target.
Foster, who lives in Highland, Calif., about 15 minutes from Riverside, said as an IT professional having the ability to stop the car and pull over to the side of the road in an emergency to access the company's network could potentially solve an IT problem that might escalate into a crisis.
Many cities want to provide municipal WiFi to residents. Initially companies like AT&T and Verizon resisted deploying the technology, said Roger Entner vice president of wireless telecom at Ovum. "If you can't beat them, join them," he said. "AT&T realizes if they don't provide the service, companies like Google or EarthLink will."