Downtown wireless network goes online

A new, free downtown wireless system in Champaign, connected to the Internet, was officially up and running Friday.

Champaign-based Pavlov Media, which is providing the system as a community service with Go Networks and the city of Champaign, has been testing the network, the sign-on Web site and other details most of this week.

Crews from the city, the California-based wireless equipment provider Go Networks, and Pavlov began installing the wireless access points, or nodes, on city light and traffic light poles in the downtown area Aug. 2.

To use the system, you need a wireless laptop or other mobile device capable of making a standard Wi-Fi connection.

Once connected, you open your Web browser, which takes you to a sign-in page. You have to provide your name, address, an e-mail address and phone number, which Pavlov collects for legal liability purposes, under the federal Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, among other things.

Dorothy Kallmayer, Pavlov's business development manager, said the information is stored in a database. But Pavlov doesn't use it except in the case of legal action.

"That information is not sold," she said. "We are not in that business."

You end up at a page thanking you for registering, with links to community-oriented Web sites like the city's, the University of Illinois' and the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District's.

Once connected, the system functions like an unfettered wireless Internet access point at any number of coffee shops, libraries and other public places.

Users can be connected to the system for up to three hours before having to go through the sign-on process again. You have to go through the process each time you sign on, the system doesn't remember you.

The wireless access points have been placed at 10 locations downtown in an area roughly bounded by State Street, Church and Main streets, Walnut Street and University Avenue, including West Side Park. The nodes work together to create a wireless "mesh" network that basically covers the whole downtown.

The Champaign City Council cleared the way for the project in June by approving an agreement to allow the wireless access points to be placed on traffic signal and light poles. The city allowed the installations at no charge as long as the service remains free, which is Pavlov's intention.

Go Network's Yaniv Sazman said the wireless nodes have been tested with a range as far as 13 miles in unobstructed terrain. In town, they will broadcast a signal for about a half mile, he said.

Coverage depends on buildings, leafy trees and other obstructions between a user and a node. The system is mostly for outdoors, although a signal is obtainable in buildings with enough windows and near a node or nodes.

Pavlov, headquartered in Church Street Square downtown, provides voice and data communications and digital video entertainment services for apartment communities and other, generally "bulk," customers in 29 states. The company employs 86 people and operates a 24-hour call center.

Pavlov has a lot of customers in the Champaign-Urbana area but isn't well-known locally in general. Company officials hope the wireless system heightens its profile, and also see the system as a community asset that could draw even more people downtown.

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