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

Special to Globe and Mail Update

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 
company said.)

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 
team includes:

	• 	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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