Trenton sets up free wireless network to make downtown more attractive

For about $1,000 down and $60 a month, Trenton made its downtown a free wireless Internet playground.

The city used Meraki technology to create a Wi-Fi mesh covering about a mile of downtown. The coverage area stretches along Jefferson Avenue between Elizabeth Park and the old Riverside Hospital.

"It's a great way to get people connected for cheap" says Robert Cady, city manager for Trenton.

Meraki is a Google-funded start-up that makes off-white transmitters that look like a child's walkie talkie. These transmitters (attached to streetlight poles in Trenton) connect Internet hot spots at local businesses, institutions and homes. The transmitters use the extra bandwidth from the hot spots to create a mesh-like net of Wi-Fi coverage.

Similar systems are spreading in San Francisco, Pittsburgh and San Diego. More than 50,000 different people have logged onto San Francisco’s Meraki network, which covers large sections of the city and has the goal of reaching every neighborhood.

A group of community activists formed the first Meraki network in downtown Ypsilanti called Wireless Ypsi earlier this year. That group helped create similar networks in Trenton, Dearborn and Lincoln Park.

Cady says the Meraki network has become a great asset for downtown as far making it more useful and attractive to anyone with a laptop or wireless connection.

"It's a great tool," Cady says. "During our street fair vendors were using it for their transaction sales. There are usually 10-12 people on it at any one time."

Source: Robert Cady, city manager for Trenton
Writer: Jon Zemke
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