A mesh network of more than 700 Internet access points covers Tempe, Ariz., the first larger city in the United States to go border-to-border wireless. The access points, attached to light poles around the city of 160,000 inhabitants, provide download speeds of up to 1Mbps.
"Being one of the first communities of this size to take on this endeavor, we learned a lesson," Heck said, "and I think others will learn lessons from us as well."
"They can change their work space by going to a coffee shop or going out to our two-mile-long lakeshore and enjoying life as they work," Hallman said.
With a telescope-like camera on the roof of its command van, the Tempe Fire Department monitors the development of fires and accidents. Pictures are sent to headquarters over the city's wireless network, so that decisions can be made about sending more personnel.
Al Jensen, hazardous-materials specialist at the Tempe Fire Department, said the wireless Internet access makes his job quicker, easier and safer. Over the city's network, he can monitor an incident, download floor plans of buildings, and get laboratory help in identifying unknown substances.
At the Tempe Police Department, all officers carry laptops that will soon be connected via the city's wireless network. The command center vehicle, which is sent out for major crises, has a built-in access point and antennas connecting with the Wi-Fi network.
The police command center vehicle seats 15 people, who are no longer limited to the use of radios and phone for communication. Police Detective Joe Retkowski uses the wireless Internet to download mug shots, as well as aerial pictures for tracking down lost children or controlling traffic situations. "It helps you make quicker and better decisions," he said.
As the daytime temperature soars with the coming of summer, Tempe's streets empty of people. Even if the wireless Internet covers 95 percent of the 40-square-mile area, only a small percentage of the population can get indoor coverage. That may be one of the reasons why only slightly more than 650 people have subscribed to the service so far.
Several of the coffee shops in downtown Tempe have their own wireless Internet access. Josh Bahner, foreground, and Tim Hobbs are two study buddies who have taken their laptops to the Coffee Plantation to wrap up school work for the spring semester. Even though they're sitting by the big windows, they can't connect to the city network. "I tried that," said Hobbs. "It told me I have no connectivity."
Dan Saine, a teacher in Tempe, is beta testing the enhancement device that's needed to get Internet coverage indoors. He is very happy with the speed of the city network but hasn't gotten rid of his cable yet. "I am waiting to see what it's going to cost," he said.
Tempe has had a rough time as a pioneer in the development of citywide wireless Internet. Nonetheless, the city believes it's heading in the right direction. MobilePro, which set up, deployed and maintains the network, is currently attaching access points to light poles in the neighboring cities of Chandler and Gilbert. Together the three districts will form a wireless area of 187 square miles by year's end.