N.H. City Launches Chamber-Sponsored Hotspot

Rather than wait for large ISPs to install public Wi-Fi access points in smaller cities, the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce will unveil its own (housed in the Chamber’s information kiosk) in historic Market Square today.

The free hotspot uses a standard phone line, a burstable SDSL connection with speeds from 768Kbps to 2.5Mbps, and an off-the-shelf Netgear MR814 802.11b Cable/DSL Wireless Router. Other equipment will also be tested.

It will run for about six months (the kiosk is unheated and the equipment isn’t supposed to be exposed to freezing temperatures), after which organizers will assess its success and the feasibility of future deployments.

The site is among the first chamber-sponsored public Wi-Fi access spots in the nation. The Carlsbad (Calif.) Chamber of Commerce offers free Wi-Fi to its members in its office lobby, according to its Web site.

“We wanted to show just how easy this can be,” said D. Scott Campbell, a member of the Chamber’s eCoast Technology Roundtable and founder Buzz on a Budget, a local PR firm. “We’re going to see how many people use it and how the equipment works.”

The hotspot will be accessible for users on benches along Market Street, and at outdoor tables at local cafes. It has a range of several hundred feet and may be reach indoors at buildings close to the hotspot.

Currently, large service providers including Verizon and SBC Communications, are rolling out Wi-Fi access for their subscribers in major cities. Deployments for smaller cities are being considered, but no firm plans have been made.

Campbell expects strong interest in the Portmouth hotspot. During the late 1990s, Portsmouth was the hub of the Granite State technology scene with a slew of Web design shops and other startups. While the Nasdaq crash caused several of these firms to fold, there are still many tech-savvy residents in the city.

“This is a huge (Apple) Mac town,” Campbell said. “And iBooks have had antennas (to access the Internet wirelessly) for years.”

Portmouth Mayor Evelyn Sirrell will attend a noon ceremony in the square at noon to officially activate the hotspot. Gov. Craig Benson, who founded the former networking equipment making giant Cabletron Systems, has also been invited.

The rollout occurs the same week as the Jupitermedia (parent of this Web site) 802.11 Conference and Expo in Boston. The event is the largest Wi-Fi business event, featuring industry experts and business innovators converge to exchange ideas and strategies.

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