Yodel-ing from the rooftops 

Plans progressing to offer wireless Internet in Whistler Village

Companies and communities pushing the wireless revolution have latched on to a single image that defines the true freedom offered by this technology – the park bench.

Of course, a majority of the future wireless Internet users in Whistler will do most of their online work from hotel and conferences rooms, but soon there will be nothing stopping people from taking their laptops, Personal Data Assistants, and tablet PCs outside to park benches, patios, and balconies.

Yodel, the name given to Whistler’s wireless Internet system, is the result of a public-private partnership between the RMOW and V-Link, an Internet company that handles wireless Internet networks for Hilton and Ambassador Suites.

Together, they are building a wireless Internet network that will blanket every square inch of Whistler Village. Once the first phase is complete, other networks will be installed in the Upper Village and Creekside. Once the project is complete, Whistler will be the first town in the world with a "campus wide" wireless network.

"It’s definitely a competitive advantage for the resort," explains John Rae, who has been working with the RMOW on this project as the manager of strategic alliances and marketing services. "Out of the gate, it gives us a distinct competitive advantage over other resorts.

"We went to Tourism Whistler with the idea, and asked ‘will you be able to use this message to increase conference business?’ and their response was ‘would we ever’. (Wireless Internet capability) is definitely a factor that would allow us to attract large conferences."

The wireless network can benefit tourists or locals that have wireless devices, as well as the hotels, rental properties, and other businesses in Whistler Village that can offer wireless capability to their customers.

Not only will it enhance Whistler’s reputation, it will also bring in revenue.

The system would be run as a joint partnership between the RMOW and V-Link, with both parties sharing the profits 50-50 once the infrastructure is paid for.

The concept was brought to the RMOW by V-Link last summer. V-Link agreed to cover all of the capital costs of installing the wireless network, estimated at $145,000, and in return will be able to use Whistler as a brand name to promote their services in other communities.

"The way we’ve structured this public-private partnership really fits in nicely with our long-term goals," said Bill Barratt, the general manager of community services for the RMOW.

"The company (V-Link) provides all of the software, all of the capital costs, and we’re not on the hook for anything. For V-Link, the real power comes from their association with Whistler.

"Our village is essentially the beta test for this kind of technology – for the world. This is cool."

The entire Yodel network is comprised of a system of 25 radio antennas around the village, about 12 of which are already up and running.

If you’ve walked by the library, municipal hall or the 2010 Olympic Bid Office, you might have noticed the radio antennas. They are short, between two and four feet long, with nondescript white boxes that will eventually be painted to better blend in with the background.

Once the system is up and running, customers that own devices with wireless capability will be able to walk up to front desks and into Internet cafés around Whistler to purchase prepaid cards, or to log online to and buy chunks of wireless Yodel time.

Not wanting to upset Whistler’s thriving Internet café industry, Yodel met with the owners of the local companies and determined the areas where they could work together.

Yodel will sell large chunks of time, starting at around $20 for 24 hours. The Internet cafes will continue to sell shorter lengths of time. The Internet cafes will also provide Yodel cards and technical help for wireless users by giving them a place to print documents, and download, send and save large files.

The transmission rates of wireless systems are fast, with download times that have been clocked up to 11 megabytes a second.

There are currently over 30,000 wireless "hot spots" in Canada, and more than a million wireless areas in the U.S. These systems are usually confined to indoor areas, like office buildings, airports and hotels, and are starting to become common in homes as well. To date, the Whistler project is one of a kind.

"One of the most important parts of this project as a public-private partnership is that the wireless Internet will always deliver incremental revenue to the municipality. If the model is strong enough, with Whistler’s leadership role among other resort communities, one day we may be able to take it on the road and sell it as a package to other communities, which would give us income as well," said Rae.

Whistler council approved the Yodel project in September of 2002. The soft launch for the project is July 7, with about 35 per cent to 50 per cent of the coverage in place. The technical glitches will be ironed out over the next few months in advance of the main launch in October, when more than 90 per cent of the network is expected to be complete.

The system works both indoors and outdoors and is based on the 802.11b high-speed wireless Local Area Network specifications. The 802.11a and 802.11b specifications were created as a universal standard by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and are free to use.

Devices that are outfitted with wireless network cards and adapters, most of which work with 809.11, will automatically pick up Yodel’s signals and bring it to the attention of users. They will have the option of buying time using a special PIN number that is assigned to them.

"It’s not really a new technology, but it’s only starting to catch on in the mainstream," said Rae. "This is an opportunity for Whistler to be on the leading edge of the technology, and really take a leadership role in this area among resorts. It could be a huge advantage for us."

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