Wireless nets spread wider

Use of the wireless Wellington network CafeNet is rising as it adds access nodes and readies a service to give people access to their corporate networks.

Use of the wireless Wellington network CafeNet is rising as it adds access nodes and readies a service to give people access to their corporate networks.

CafeNet, a division of Wellington metro ethernet service provider CityLink, was first tested last year and is now being offered at more than 20 sites around Wellington.

While only a handful of people were accessing the net via CafeNet in December, the number of registered users is now “in the hundreds”, says CityLink development manager Carl Penwarden.

“We have quite a mix of locations, including four conference venues and 12 cafes; some that we’re in, others where access is available from points outside.”

The city’s central public library and The National Library, at the other end of town, are part of CafeNet. There is also an access point in the staff room at Wellington Girls’ College.

Users prepay $20 for 120MB or four hours of chargeable traffic or $80 for 600MB. There are plans to introduce a service for the enterprise market, whereby users will connect to their office LAN via virtual private networks and be billed later.

“We have a couple of beta users for that.”

That corporate users will need to use VPNs underscores the wide-open nature of CafeNet’s offering.

“It’s a fully open network — we make it clear people need to take the degree of security they need,” he says. “It’s pretty straightforward to run a personal firewall.”

That openness means that CafeNet has blocked outbound connections on the normal SMTP port of 25, “due to concerns” about the service being used for spam. It is still possible to pick up email via POP3 or IMAP.

A major target audience of the present, public internet access service is visitors to Wellington. Experience suggests they’re using CafeNet, Penwarden says.

“We’re getting a lot of feedback from people going through Wellington on a trip, mainly from the US, registering to use it.”

He says more sites will come on stream in the near future and that CafeNet is access point-agnostic, for example, configured for different variants of the 802.11 wireless standard.

“At the moment, in the public network, we’ve only used 802.11b.”

It is possible to run 802.11a, if users have the right gear, but Penwarden says 802.11g is likely to prove more popular, given its backwards-compatibility with 802.11b.

“If someone comes along with a g-card, they should be able to connect with CafeNet.”

CityLink is “monitoring the price points and functionality” of 802.11g equipment, he says “and at some point in the future we will start to deploy g instead of b”.

Current users generally get speeds around 6Mbit/s, near the top of what can be expected of 802.11b in the field, he says.

Another operator with plans to roll out a patchwork of hot spots says those plans are on hold, but are far from forgotten.

Walker Wireless spokesperson Alan Lee says the hotspot rollout is on hold while the company commercially expands its wideband CDMA fixed wireless network.

“The hotspots project has been temporarily parked to make sure we don’t overstretch ourselves.”

Walker has a hotspot at Auckland airport ready to go, pending drawing up commercial arrangements with airport management and plans to roll out hotspots at Starbucks cafes and other sites.

The plans were put to one side after Walker switched from MMDS to wideband CDMA as its fixed wireless platform.

Following a trial last year, Walker has signed some commercial customers — Lee wouldn’t say how many — and has four cell sites in Auckland relaying the service, which is available in commercial packages offering average speeds of up to 512kbit/s depending on which plan customers choose.

Another significant wireless development in New Zealand is RoamAD, which has a network in downtown Auckland running RoamAD’s proprietary technology, which allows ubiquitous Wi-Fi access over metropolitan areas. Using a star grid topography with the coverage area divided into eight 45-degree sectors, each with four to eight points of presence, the network offers the possibility of handover from conventional GPRS and CDMA cellular networks to the RoamAD network.

RoamAD envisages a telco reselling its service and doing the billing and branding, but has not yet announced such an agreement in New Zealand.

Chief executive Paul Stoddart says RoamAD is “in regular dialogue with the telcos”.

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