Folsom CA looks past Wi-Fi to WiMAX

With a push from Intel, Central Valley city plans WiMAX network by fall 2007.

Folsom, CA, is planning to leapfrog Wi-Fi entirely and build a WiMAX network by the fall of 2007, the Sacramento Bee reports.

[I]n the system proposed for Folsom, a single tower could bathe nearly the entire city in a WiMAX "warm zone" of Internet connectivity, according to a feasibility study commissioned by the city.

That's surprisingly forward thinking from a city government, since WiMAX enabled laptops won't likely even come out until 2007.

Folsom Economic Development Coordinator Joe Luchi said that the city is considering the WiMAX technology, rather than comparatively tried-and-true Wi-Fi, for several reasons.

For one thing, because a WiMAX network uses far fewer transmission points than a Wi-Fi network, it requires less equipment and should be significantly less expensive.

But WiMAX is also a way to side-step the rancorous debate between  utilities and local governments.

"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."

In many cases, the existing "wired" Internet service to homes and businesses likely would perform better than the WiMAX service, said Stephen Blum, an independent consultant who prepared the WiMAX feasibility study for the city. Residents also might be reluctant to buy new WiMAX-compatible equipment.

Instead, the WiMAX network is likely to be most useful to mobile Internet users, Blum said. It's 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.

The fact that Intel, which operates a 7,000-employee plant in Folsom,  is a big proponent of WiMAX might have had a little to do with Folsom's innovative thinking.

Intel ... appears to have a clear interest in helping along the development of a citywide WiMAX network that might help to showcase future products.

"Their Wi-Fi chipsets got the whole market for Wi-Fi 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.