Local Company Launches "Wi-Fi Zone" - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

10/14/05

Local Company Launches "Wi-Fi Zone"

Bluffton-based Epproach Communications has big news for the City of Savannah. "What it does is offer broadband, high-speed, wireless connectivity, which is an alternative to fixed or wired line DSL or cable modems to access the internet," said the company's Marty Hollingsworth.

That's wireless internet access anywhere within several miles of the SCAD tower on Abercorn Street. We met up with Epproach at the site of its first business client, Boba Cafe and Deli in City Market.

"We've got basically a radio up on the tower, over at the SCAD tower, it connects to a radio here on the roof at the Boba Cafe," explained Hollingsworth. "And then from that radio we've got additional coverage that puts out a hot zone, or cloud if you will, that anyone who has standard wi-fi-based equipment can see that cloud and flip open their notebook computer and log onto the internet."

The business-class service, which is not free, is better internet service than DSL, according to Donavon Peterson of Boba. "Our speed is three or four times as fast in terms of sending or receiving information," he said. "Extremely efficient when it comes to downloading files and uploading files...didn't have to drag any cable, no new holes in the walls."

When businesses like Boba subscribe to the service, it also creates a huge zone of lower-speed wireless access, or wi-fi, in the surrounding area. This one blankets City Market.

"The free hot zone here at City Market provides basic service so that you can surf the web or check your email and those type things," said Hollingsworth. "But if you want a dedicated connection, you want the ability to know that you have a secure, reliable connection either at your home or at your business, that's a service we provide for a fee."

Bob Ketterhagen installed the system. He wasn't sure just how far the wi-fi zone could go. So he started walking. And walking. And walking. He finally stopped in Johnson Square, about five blocks away, when the signal become too weak to use effectively.

"We're using high-powered gear, but I didn't expect to get this far via non-line-of-sight," he said.

But this is just the first step. Ultimately, the network will expand.

"We will continue to spread our infrastructure throughout Savannah, creating a mesh of wireless wi-fi nodes, that will eventually basically cloud all over downtown Savannah," said Ketterhagen.

The free wi-fi zones are unencrypted, wide open to the public, and not as fast as the residential or commercial service you pay for. But as more businesses sign up, we should see the wi-fi "cloud" build over Savannah. That's great news for today's unwired internet user.

Reported by: Charles Gray, cgray@wtoc.com

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