July 18, 2008

Nashua, N.H., Chamber Makes Downtown Wireless Network Official

By Joseph G. Cote, The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.

Jul. 17--NASHUA -- On Wednesday morning, Christopher Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, cut one of the cords tethering downtown residents and visitors to their homes and offices.

Although it's been operational for a week, the Nashua wireless network was officially launched Wednesday at a press conference. Williams, along with the chamber's partners on the wireless project, cut into pieces an Ethernet cord connected to a laptop set up in front of City Hall.

The network allows anyone with a username and password to log onto the Internet anywhere in the stretch of Main Street between Railroad Square and the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center.

The chamber decided to require a username and password because it can then keep track of how many people use the network, at what times and in what areas, Williams said.

The passwords are also part of the marketing of the network, he said. Several signs advertising the network are posted on lamp poles in the downtown and store windows have decals showing that more information can be found inside.

Users can go into a store and ask for a pamphlet, which has a username and password. The information will change every three months, he said, and hopefully will get more people entering shops up and down Main Street.

The chamber spent 14 months working with several partners -- including the city, the state, Hampshire First Bank, FairPoint, ActiveEdge and Aboudi -- planning, financing and building the network.

"We're very happy we took those 14 months because I'm certain we have the very best network we can provide here in the Nashua downtown community," Williams said.

Representatives from several of the partners spoke at the press conference Wednesday morning.

"It's another great example of what can happen if we come together, if everyone gives a little bit," said Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau.

Marga Bessette, the chamber's director of communications, said that the project cost $42,000 and that this amount will be enough to maintain the network for three years. By then, the chamber hopes to have more sponsors to continue funding it "and maybe expand the signal."

Williams said the network is a "mesh network," meaning each of the 17 antennas talk with all the other antennas rather than just one-to-one in a relay system.

That means there are fewer weak spots, he said, because if one antenna is broken or malfunctioning, the 16 others can pick up its slack.

In fact, he said four volunteers were able to connect to the Internet and continuously play a YouTube video while walking the length of Main Street without losing the wireless signal.

The antennas, which look a like super-sized computer mouse, are hanging in windows and under windowsills along Main Street as well as West Pearl, Temple and Water streets and Nashua Drive. Some are connected to cables carrying DSL. Others are simply connected to electricity and repeat the DSL signal broadcast by the others, Williams said.

Three more antennas can be installed if the chamber discovers weak spots in the network, he said.

The chamber is in a good position to consider offering the service in other parts of the city. But "we're not going to do that quickly. We're not setting a schedule," Williams said.


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