I’ve been thinking a lot about wi-fi again lately. I say again because it’s a topic I have written about on this blog for over eight years! Here’s what I wrote in September 2005:
What’s my mantra? Wireless Everywhere! I look forward to the day when wireless is like oxygen; everywhere you go, it’s there.
I was pretty dedicated to the cause. On a business trip in about 2004, my colleague and I were staying in a hotel that didn’t have Internet access in the rooms, though it did have access in the business centre. So we went to Staples, bought a wireless router, and hooked it up. We carefully hid it behind one of the enormous computer towers, and after we checked out we returned it. For the few days we were there, we had wireless Internet access! (After that trip, we started bringing a wireless router with us when traveling.)
A couple of years later, I was intrigued by a device that might alert me to the existence of wi-fi (no longer needed thanks to smartphones). In 2008 one of my first experiences with Edmonton’s NextGen was a result of their focus group on wi-fi. Also that year, the City of Edmonton launched a wi-fi pilot called Wireless Edmonton, the Edmonton Public Library launched free wi-fi, and I got involved in the Free WiFi Project.
Of course, technology has changed dramatically over the years. Mesh networking was initially pretty popular and was used in a number of cities, but you don’t hear too much about it now. Longer-range standards like WiMax never really materialized. And perhaps most importantly, nearly everyone now has a smartphone equipped with mobile data access.
Still, I find the idea of blanket wi-fi coverage intriguing. We all know how ridiculously expensive mobile data is in Canada. And wi-fi is generally faster (though LTE is quick too). I never had much hope that an ISP would make wireless access easier – what incentive did they have? I always figured that the City would have to make it happen, but the reality is we very nearly have blanket wi-fi coverage right now. And it’s because of Shaw.
I know this is going to seem like a big advertisement, but I can assure you it’s not. I haven’t received anything special. I am a Shaw customer, and I pay thousands of dollars a year for TV and Internet, just like many of you. I’m a happy customer though, and I like the Go WiFi service so much I wanted to write about it.
It was in September 2011 that Shaw announced plans to build out a wi-fi network (PDF). They had been looking to enter the wireless (cell phone) industry, but decided it was too expensive and risky.
We believe that a more prudent approach for us is to provide a managed Wi-Fi network that will allow our customers to extend their Shaw services beyond the home. This will achieve our objectives without risking well over $1 billion in capital expenditures on a traditional wireless network build.
Shaw launched its first hotspots in the spring of 2012 and has been expanding the network ever since. Today there are thousands of locations throughout western Canada, especially in large urban centres. I find I’m regularly connected to ShawOpen without even realizing it! You can find a location near you here, or you can download one of the mobile apps to find nearby hotspots.
Here’s a quick video from Shaw explaining how to use the service:
Entering your username and password each time is rather annoying, but fortunately you can avoid that. Simply login to the Shaw Customer Centre, and go to the Shaw Go WiFi page. There you can enter up to ten devices (depending on your plan) that should automatically connect (by MAC address). It works perfectly!
If you think the network is great now, just wait. In May 2013, City Council approved an agreement with Shaw to expand the Go WiFi service to public areas like LRT stations. They’re even going to be adding hotspots nearly 900 streetlights! The expansion is slated to take place over the next two years and will result in about 1500 new access points and coverage at all public facilities. The City estimated that expanding their own network would cost up to $15 million, so partnering with a telecom provider would be a much more cost-effective approach. The City isn’t directly investing in the project, but is contributing staff time to the tune of about $540,000.
The best part is that you don’t need to be a Shaw customer to take advantage of the new service. Anyone can get access to 500 MB of data each month after you complete a free sign-on (on a Shaw & City of Edmonton co-branded page).
It seems like I’ll finally have wireless everywhere, at least in Edmonton. Thanks Shaw!