Wireless war waged at Whistler
Ian Andrew Bell
fork at ianbell.com
Sat Jan 17 01:47:13 PST 2004
Wireless war waged at Whistler
By ROB BLACKSTIEN
Special to Globe and Mail Update
UPDATED AT 1:00 AM EST
Friday, Jan. 16, 2004
Ian Andrew Bell had a problem.
The former California resident often travelled to Whistler, B.C., to
snowboard. And like many of the upwardly mobile visitors that frequent
this resort community, Mr. Bell had an affinity for his tech toys. But
staying connected while he "worked" at Whistler proved challenging.
"My biggest irritation was that there was absolutely no way to get
on-line when I was there," Mr. Bell recalls.
And so it was that the now Vancouver-based Mr. Bell came up with the
idea to turn the villages of Whistler into a complete hot spot with
ubiquitous wireless Internet access. In January, Mr. Bell, principal of
wireless technology consultant firm CorporationX, approached Whistler
Cable Television Ltd. with the idea of creating a wireless network.
That network, WhooshNet Wireless, is now a reality, having officially
launched November 1. Now visitors and residents alike can roam
throughout the Whistler villages and remain constantly connected.
But turning Mr. Bell's vision into reality certainly had its challenges
along the way.
The primary challenge to WhooshNet came from the Resort Municipality of
Whistler (RMOW) itself. Unbeknown to Mr. Bell or Whistler Cable, the
municipality was creating its own wireless service. RMOW had contracted
a Florida-based vendor, V-Link, to create Yodel, a wireless Internet
service. Neither RMOW or Whistler Cable had knowledge of each other's
activities, and once it came to light that the parties were essentially
working on competing products, Mr. Bell went to the municipality in an
effort to consolidate the projects. RMOW, however, cited its
contractual agreements with V-Link, and claimed to have never intended
to shun Whistler Cable while working out its plans; in fact, a
municipality spokesperson stated that RMOW perceived Whistler Cable as
simply a television and hard-wired Internet provider and not as a
viable wireless partner.
So the die was cast for competition between the networks. But that
didn't deter Mr. Bell. "It just gave us the impetus to build a better
network," he says.
Ron Saperstein, General Manager of Whistler Cable, is equally confident
in WhooshNet Wireless. "We believe this service will find strong
support with both visitors to Whistler and the local community."
Clearly, it's the visitor market that will drive the success of
WhooshNet. While Whistler has about 15,000 full-time residents, the
villages boast more than one million visitors annually — a huge
potential market for the convenience of constant connectivity
throughout the three main villages of Whistler.
"This is a case of 'if you build it, they will come,'" Mr. Bell says.
For the community and local businesses, WhooshNet Wireless provides not
only another service offering, but a potential steady stream of
additional revenue. Retailers that provide access to their roofs for
WhooshNet antennas get "a little piece of the action," Mr. Bell says.
Those retailers can also make money by selling pre-paid access cards
for the service and by renting access devices to those who want to get
on-line but don't have 802.11 (the wireless protocol the service runs
on) built into their laptops or PDAs.
(The service currently offers 802.11b compatibility, but early in the
new year, WhooshNet will also be 802.11a- and 802.11g-friendly, the
According to Mr. Bell, "Whistler Cable had been sort of looking at
this, amongst other things, as a way to defend themselves against
dedicated hotel service companies like GuesTech and LodgeNet."
So when Mr. Bell approached Whistler with the wireless network idea,
the timing was perfect. And at the beginning of the year, Mr. Bell
began assembling the team to create WhooshNet. But unlike the municipal
government's similar wireless access project, Mr. Bell says his group
tried to stay as Canadian as possible with its choice of vendors. The
• Cisco Canada, which provided the wireless access points.
• Montreal-based Colubris, which also provided access points designed
specifically for service providers.
• Halifax-based SolutionInc, which built the subscriber management
system that handles the network's authentication, payment processes and
mediates proxy access so people can't steal access from the network.
SolutionInc also provides the ongoing remote management of WhooshNet.
• Hanover Park, Il.-based MAXRAD supplied the antennas.
• Vancouver-based CorporationX, Mr. Bell's firm, provided project
management through the design and deployment stages.
• Whistler Cable provided the Internet infrastructure and the capital
for the project, plus it has the customer service and (thanks to its
local subscriber base) a channel to the market.
WhooshNet costs $10 (Cdn.) per day. Users can purchase anywhere from 15
minutes to a month worth of time.
The entire project cost a mere $110,000 to roll out, Mr. Bell says, and
so far, according to Mr. Saperstein, reaction to the network has been
But there were a few technical hurdles, the main one being the
proliferation of aluminium roofing in Whistler, Mr. Bell said. Aluminum
is a common roofing material because of the vast amount of wet snow in
the area. The team had some difficulty getting the antennas to point
signals directly into rooms because the aluminium tended to bounce the
signals into the air.
Although this issue was solved with some creative antenna strategies,
Mr. Bell says the running joke became "if you're flying over Whistler
at 30,000 feet and you suddenly find you have Internet access, you have
me to thank for it."
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