Northern Illinois Cities To Unwire

Northern Illinois Cities To Unwire

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Eric Griffith

January 31, 2006

UPDATED: ROC-net and partners bring Wi-Fi services to Rockford, Illinois, and plan to expand into municipalities in 10 other counties.

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The third-largest city in the state of Illinois, Rockford, today saw the official launch of its downtown hotzone. The cooperative that runs the network says it is only the first phase of a plan to bring Wi-Fi-based wireless broadband to cities in as many as 10 counties in northern Illinois.

ROC-net Services is short for “Regional Optic Cooperation,” and the company knows about all the dark fiber optics in that part of the state and all the way to Dubuque, Iowa. It will use that unused fiber, coupled with wireless microwave connections for backhaul as needed, in what ROC-net manager John Sandberg calls a “classic carrier backbone.”

In Rockford, ROC-Net has installed three “cellular-style” G-Force 850 base stations from 5G Wireless, which provide a 360-degree, long range Wi-Fi signal. Coupled with some indoor equipment, the 5G base stations cover about eight square miles of the city.  In the background, Airpath Wireless’ WiBOSS Metro hosted OSS and management platform will take care of user authentication and billing as needed. In other city deployments, 5G says that ROC-net will continue to use the “cellular Wi-Fi approach” for Wi-Fi connections.

The cooperative may also install higher-end multi-radio mesh hardware, specifically to support first responders. Sandberg could not divulge who the mesh partner might be due to non-disclosure agreements, but said ROC-net does have a specific vendor in mind. (It could be Motorola, as he noted that ROC-net’s choice incorporated both Wi-Fi and the 4.9GHz spectrum reserved for first responder use. Motorola’s newly shipping MotoMesh equipment supports both.) [[Corrected Jan 31 from original to indicate 5G wireless use in all future deployments.]]

The Rockford network will target residences, businesses and the local schools, colleges, and healthcare facilities. Pricing will start at $8 per day or $25 per month without a contract, down to $20 a month with a one-year contract. Larger user group prices are on a case-by-case basis for now. According to Wikipedia, Rockford is a city of 150,000 residents in 59,000 households. It is the county seat, and has suffered from manufacturing declines since the ’80s. It’s currently looking to revitalize as a center for the creation of aerospace components.

Last week, ROC-net received a $12,500 grant (in partnership with co-winner Prairie Shield) from the state in response to requests for a “homeland security business plan that would stimulate creative, innovative business development in Northern Illinois,” according to a release from the governor’s office. Together, the two plan to build a “comprehensive, large transmission bandwidth infrastructure in Boone and Ogle counties supporting an ‘interoperable’ wireless communication network” for first responders.

What city will ROC-net set up shop in next? Tammy Eighmy, manager and founder of ROC-net, says they’ll go where the business takes them.

“We’ve had a great deal of interest along the northwest corridor,” Eighmy says, assuming they’d radiate out from Winnebago county, where Rockford is located. “We’re working on several projects right now, but if someone in the Quad Cities [Iowa and Illinois towns flanking the Mississippi River west of Chicago] is large enough and interested, that takes our attention there.”  

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